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Underlying Meanings | “Peter Pan” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre / 5☆ Theatricals

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 16, 2017 @ 7:51 pm PDT

Peter Pan (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicHatred of Women. As I start writing this, news of the new Dr. Who has been released, and mysogyny is rampant in the comment sections on the Internet. I mean, Hillary Clinton was one thing, but a female Time Lord.

Get over it. Grow up!

The reason I bring the subject up at all, however, is because I saw a show last night that made me think about a deep seated hatred of women — mothers in particular — from another boy that refused to grow up. I am, of course, talking about Peter Pan (and I don’t mean the peanut butter). Peter’s hatred of mothers — his deep seated mistrust of them and desire to inflict regular pain on them by stealing their children — has been brought to mind regarding this story every since I saw the Blank Theatre production of Peter Pan – The Boy That Hated Mothers. That made me look at the boy quite differently. Gone were the days of innocence brought upon by the famous Mary Martin TV production of the musical.

However, until last night, I actually can’t recall having seen the actual stage musical … on stage. I’d seen the origin story of the story, of course, as well as the origin story of the author. I’d see both the 1960 original TV version and the recent politically-corrected and lengthened remake. But the actual stage version…. I hadn’t seen it. When Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) announced their season I was intrigued — and I wondered if in face I would see the original, or whether the updated TV version was now the only version licensed.

The answer: It was the original version being licensed with only one PC change (the word “redskins” was dropped in favor of “warriors”), meaning the problematic portrayals (i.e., stereotypical “Indians” vs. respectful “Native Americans”) were in the hands of the director.

And my verdict? What did I think of it?

The production itself was spectacular. The performances. The singing. The dancing. The theatricality. The fun. The spectacle. The magic. It was all there. There were scenes and songs I didn’t remember; it was different from yet similar to the 1960 broadcast. It erased the problematic memories of the recent Live! version.

But… But…

The story flaws remain. The presentation still hearkens to a level of stereotypical Indians — braves, savages, and war-paint. The presentation still is based around a child that has some deep psychological issues. In addition to, you guessed it, Peter Pan syndrome, there is that resentment towards mothers and adults. But you know, I see those things only when I have my “adult” hat on. Taking it off; being a child again — this remains a magical fun musical. Alas, the world forces us to grow up. But we can be children, and sometimes set aside our problems, when we go to a large building, often in a central part of a city, and sit together in the dark with lots of other people, all of whom have paid a great deal of money to be there, and just… imagine.

Oh, and for those that can’t get over the fact that Peter Pan, a boy, is played by a girl: GET OVER IT. Just think of Peter Pan as the ultimate Time Lord.

At this point, I would normally give you a synopsis of the story. But, c’mon, who doesn’t know the story of Peter Pan? A boy who refuses to grow up, who together with a fairy who loves the boy in a way that fairies  shouldn’t love boys, kidnaps the children of a family. He takes them, after performing some mindwashing, to an island where they get to play with poison and swords and fight pirates, keeping them out of communication with their parents. He fights a local Native American tribe, and after saving their leader, makes friends with the tribe. He then refuses to listen to a voice of sanity, lets a fairy get poisoned to the point of near death (only to be saved by breaking the fourth wall), and lets innocent children be captured and threatened with death. He then fights the pirates, wins, throws the captain overboard, and then burdens a family in their moment of relief at getting their children back with a significant number of additional mouths to feed. Oh, he then comes back years later and takes away the daughter of the woman he once called “mother”.

You thought the story was something different? Perhaps this?

Seriously, though, to give credit where credit is due: Peter Pan is the 1954 musical version based on the play by Sir J. M Barrie, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Moose Charlap, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and additional music by Jule Styne, and original choreography by Jerome Robbins, with proceeds from the licensing still going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.  With those credits, it isn’t a bad show at all. I just pull your leg — perhaps overly so, which is in the spirit of the show.

Peter Pan Cast (Cabrillo)The Cabrillo production of Peter Pan is simply outstanding. Under the direction of Yvette Lawrence (FB) and with choreography by Cheryl Baxter (FB), magic is created by the cast and crew. These production leads knew how to bring out the best in their cast, how to keep and make the playfulness in the story come out on stage, and how, simply to have fun.

In the lead position as Peter Pan, Carly Bracco (FB) has fun with the role. To my eyes, she was quite a boyish, impish, and strong Peter. I never cared for the lilt of Mary Martin, and have only a vague recollection of Sandy Duncan. Allison Williams was far too reserved in her portrayal. Bracco captures the right amount of boy — perhaps tomboy — in the character. Playful, petulant, flighty. All captured well, combined with a very strong singing voice and great dance moves.

Playing against her as Mr. Darling / Captain Hook was Gregory North (FB). As Mr. Darling, the role calls for a modicum of measured bluff and bravado. But as Hook, ah, as Hook, that is where North shines. This is a role that calls for measured and controlled over-acting, of chewing scenery and the pirate crew around you, of, in essence, playing as strong at the stereotype of a pirate as one can. North nails that person perfectly, and combines it with marvelous singing and performance. He is a delight to watch.

The Darling children are portrayed by Sarah Miller-Crews (FB) as Wendy, Micah Meyers as John, and Luke Pryor as Michael. All are spectacular. I’d like to particularly call out Miller-Crews lovely voice on “Distant Melody,” and Pryor’s remarkable dancing in Ugg-a-Wugg.

I noted earlier that, unlike the 1954 version, the character Liza does not come to Neverland. Perhaps that is because, similar to Mr. Darling, they cast the actor in a different role in Neverland. In this case, Brittany Bentley (FB), who portrays Liza, also portrays Tiger Lily. As with Hook, it is in Neverland that Bentley shines.  This time, it isn’t by overacting — it is by dance. From the moment of her Cirque de Soleil entrance as Tiger Lily thought her amazing dances throughout, she is just a joy to watch.

Turning now to some of the various named ensemble types, starting with the pirates. These are great comic roles, and the team just excels at them — particularly Justin Michael Wilcox (FB)’s Smee. From the Mezzanine, where I was sitting, it was hard to tell them apart, but there was loads of play, athleticism, gymnastics, and just great dance and fun.

Turning to the Lost Boys: As a group they were spectacular. Strong singing, strong dancing, strong gymnastics, and most importantly, strong play.

Lastly, Angela Baumgardner (FB) played Mrs. Darling/Adult Wendy (and presumably the narrator).

What distinguished a Cabrillo production from any other production is the large and outstanding ensembles they assemble, especially in the quality of their dance. This show was no exception. The ensemble consisted of: Claudia Baffo (FB) [Indian]; Mackinnley Balleweg [Lost Boy]; John Paul Batista (FB) [Indian]; Brigid Benson (FB) [Indian]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Twin #1]; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB) [Starkey]; Luca de la Peña [Lost Boy]; Natalie Esposito (FB) [Indian]; Shannon Gerrity (FB) [Twin #2]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [Cecco]; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Indian, Dance Captain]; Diane Huber (FB) [Mermaid]; Evin Johnson (FB)  [Indian]; Ty Koeller (FB) [Indian]; Joey Langford (FB) [Tootles]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Indian]; Calista Loter (FB) [Indian]; Natalie MacDonald (FB) [Lost Boy]; Missy Marion (FB) [Nana, Crocodile]; Nathaniel Mark (FB) [Lost Boy]; Andrew Metzger (FB) [Noodler, Scottish Pirate]; Alyssa Noto (FB) [Lost Boy]; Charles Platt (FB) [Turkish Pirate]; Tanner Redman (FB) [Bill Jukes]; Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Nibs]; Brandon Root (FB) [Algerian Pirate]; Jessie Sherman (FB) [Curly]; Anthony Sorrells (FB) [Indian]; Landen Starkman (FB) [Pirate]; Gabriel Taibi (FB) [Slightly]; Ashley Kiele Thomas (FB) [Indian]; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) [Los Boy]; Abigail May Thompson [Jane]; Riley Way [Lost Boy];  and Jater Webb (FB).

No credit was provided for Tinkerbell. I preferred the days when they had to be imaginative with her, instead of playing confuse-a-cat with a laser pointer.

Understudies: Brittany Bentley (FB) – Peter Pan; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB)  – Mr. Darling/Captain Hook;  Natalie MacDonald (FB) – Wendy Darling; Nathaniel Mark – John Darling; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) – Michael Darling; Diane Huber (FB) – Mrs. Darling.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the musical direction of Dan Redfield/FB, who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Bariton Sax]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe; English Horn; Flute 2]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Piccolo Trumpet]; Mike Davis [Trumpet II]; Michael Fortunato (FB) [Trumpet III]; Jennifer Bliman (FB) [Horn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone]; Sharon Cooper [Violin]; Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Chris Kimbler (FB) [Keyboard I]; Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard II]; Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard III]; Elaine Litster [Harp]; Shane Harry/FB [Double String Bass]; and Alan Peck [Set Drums, Percussion]. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the production side of the show: The scenery was designed by John Iacovelli (FB), and was provided by McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB) (together with the costumes (designed by Shigeru Yaji), and any props that weren’t designed by Alex Choate (FB).  Add to this the hair and wig design of Jim Belcher. The total package worked quite well, especially in the costuming for the lost boys and the pirates, and the hiding of the flying harnesses. As for the costumes of the Indians, well, lets just say they fit the stereotype well, but in this area this show is not known for cultural sensitivity. Lighting and sound design were by CMT regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) [lighting] and Jonathan Burke (FB) [sound]. Flying effects were by Zfx, Inc (FB), who also win the award for best bio. After all, “They don’t wake up and put their pans on one leg at a time like the other guys. They wrap themselves in kilts and stride boldly out into the world.” Other production credits: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend to see Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) [and one more week to see it as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), see below]. Tickets are available at the Cabrillo Box Office Online; or you can call the Kavli box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

To explain the last parenthetical: At the beginning of last night’s show, Managing Director Will North announced that Cabrillo Music Theatre was no more. It wasn’t going away, no shows were changing; the upcoming season was unchanged. However, they were changing their name to 5 Star Theatricals. The reason for this was unclear. Was it to disassociate themselves from the horrid Theatre League productions, or the financial problems of the past? Probably not. The thinking seems to be more that it is to broaden their producing horizons to plays and other events, and to possibly increase their geographic reach (touring 5-Star productions on a regional circuit, perhaps). Whatever the reason, I think the timing is bad, especially after they printed up all the specialty material with the Cabrillo logo. The name has loads of goodwill; just go to Cabrillo Theatricals and be done with it. That’s my 2c. Alas, they don’t have a website up for the new name.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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A Notable Beginning | “Ruthie and Me” @ Actors Co-Op Too!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 16, 2017 @ 10:49 am PDT

Ruthie and Me (Actors Co-Op)Everything has a beginning. In the case of musicals, long gestation periods often begat workshops, which begat more workshops as a musical is honed into the eventual stage production that one sees. One of the companies to which we subscribe, Actors Co-op (FB), does this through their summer series Actors Co-Op Too!: a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

Yesterday, we saw the second production of this year’s Too! series: Ruthie and Me. Ruthie and Me was written 20 years ago by book writer and lyricist Karen Wescott (FB), with music by Marylou Dunn (FB), but it had never seen a full production (although it appears there was a staged reading at some point at the Pasadena Playhouse, and possibly a church variant of the show). Director Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB) worked with the authors to develop a streamlined revision, with the result being this first staged workshop production. (Note: This doesn’t appear to be the first time the author and director have worked together; I found this while attempting to find the author’s bio online)

Ruthie and Me tells the story of the biblical character Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth.  Coming from the Jewish tradition, I was aware of the importance of the story: Ruth is the first recorded instance of a convert to Judaism and provides the model for Jewish conversion; she is also traditionally in the lineage of King David. However, I recalled from my Jewish Studies courses at UCLA that Ruth had some additional implications within Christianity (see here and here or here, for example). Essentially, the Jewish interpretation focuses on the conversion and lineage, and the Christian interpretation focuses on redemption and the parallels between Ruth’s son and Jesus. My fear was that, given the mission of the company, the Christalogical aspects would be too heavy-handed (i.e., sufficient to make this non-Christian audience member uncomfortable). I’m pleased to say that nothing along this aspect struck me during the show, although there was a little bit more emphasis on the redemption aspect than the conversion aspect.

As this was, essentially, a workshop production, there is the written understanding that this is a work in progress — not a finished “Broadway ready” piece. I would essentially agree with that: I think the piece is a good beginning, but needs some work along the path. In the spirit of that, I hope that the following comments will help it along the way. In terms of the story itself, limiting to the specific Biblical concept and age is understandable given the nature of the author, but rarely have such stories succeeded. If a way could be found to transport the bones of the story to a different setting (as is often done with Shakespeare), it could provide some additional insights on the acceptance of a convert in a closed and insular society, and the redemptive power of an open heart. Conversion is a powerful metaphor these days: whether it is conversion and suspicion of the foreigner in a larger society (witness what we have seen with refugees and foreign immigrants), or conversion and acceptance in terms of gender. There could be some very interesting parallels to explore there.

In terms of the writing itself: there were some language concerns. Specifically, there was use of both Yiddish and Hebrew and moving back and forth between the two (with the typical differences in pronunciation). But a larger concern was why the Yiddish was used. It wasn’t used as part of the context of the time, or to create the feeling of Yiddishkeit community, but rather for the humor of the words in the Jewish context of the play (perhaps we only know a character is Jewish if they spout Yiddish?).  If that is the intent, there needs to be a deeper way of conveying that message without dropping to the stereotypical. As the musical is shaped further, ask yourself: Why are they speaking Yiddish. As I write that, the phrase and role that comes to mind is dramaturg. Enlisting such a person to help in the shaping might resolve those issues.

Musically, the show comes off as … a church play or cantata. It is predominately sung through, and a chorus is often used to provide exposition along the way as opposed to the dramatic scenes illustrating the story. The music from song to song tends to have a similar tonality and feel; the only song that truly stands out is “Life After a Certain Age”. So unless the intent is to take this along the lines of Andrew Lloyd Webber or a Lin Manuel Miranda, an effort needs to be made to craft this more along traditional musical lines. The music can use a bit more variety in tempo and style as well. There were also points where I got the feeling that the rhyming dictionary was handy during the process. In other words, the rhymes felt like they were there because the lyricist though this rhyme is good — let’s add a few more, as opposed to letting the lyrics serve the story and advancing it forward.

If you are interpreting the comments above as my thinking this was a bad show, think again. I thought it was a good show and a great musical telling of the Story of Ruth. But as it currently stands, it might only have a life on the liturgical stage. If it wants something more than that, then further seasoning and adjustment is required.

The performances (under the direction of Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB)), for the most part, were reasonably good. In the lead positions were Lori Berg (FB) as Naomi and Christina Gardner (FB) as Ruth. Berg gave a strong performance as Naomi — conveying humor, singing well, capturing the Jewish nature of the character, and in general, being very enjoyable to watch. Gardner needs some more seasoning (as is understandable for a Too! performance): I liked her acting and dancing quite a bit, but she does need to work a bit more on the singing. Specifically, she needs a bit more power behind the voice to be able to compete and compare with other actors on stage, and there were a number of notes where I got the impression she was reaching a bit out of her range or was slightly off. These are all correctable with a little training, and I think the underlying basics and talent are there — so I view this like the larger show: this is a strong start, and I hope to see her again, improved, in a future production.

In what I would characterize as the second tier of importance were Darrell Philip (FB)’s Boaz and Tracey Bunka‘s Sapphira. I really liked Philip’s Boaz: he exuded a strong warm personality, and one could easily see why Ruth was attracted to him even given the difference is ages. He also sang very nicely. Bunka’s strength was in singing in movement — she had a very strong voice that stood out and defined the songs she was in, and was a joy to listen to.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Tamarah Ashton (FB) [Ensemble]; David Buckland (FB) [Ensemble, Baruch]; Hannah Dimas (FB) [Ensemble, Orpah]; Wayne Keller III (FB) [Ensemble]; Perry Hart [Ensemble, Nathan]; Carly Lopez (FB) [Woman 2]; Lisa Rodriguez (TW) [Woman 1]; Karlee Squires (FB) [Ensemble]; and Priscilla Taylor (FB) [Ensemble]. All were strong and performed and sang well. About the only weakness was one of the male ensemble members — there were two times where he had line trouble. I’m writing that off to this being a workshop and having only three performances (and thus, likely an equivalently light rehearsal period).

Music was provided by side-stage accompanist Jeff Gibson (who it turns out is connected to a family we’re good friends with). We hadn’t seen Jeff in ages, so it was a treat to see him (plus his dinner recommendation worked out great).

Actors Co-Op Too! productions have minimal budgets and sets. There was no credit for scenic design or anything like that. Lighting design was by Dan Corrigan (FB). Choreography was by Jorie Janeway (FB).  Derek Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager. Ruthie and Me was produced by Carly Lopez (FB).

Alas, Ruthie and Me had only three performances: one on Friday, July 14, and two on Saturday, July 15, so you missed your chance to see it. However, there is one more Actors Co-Op Too! production, The Last 5 Years, in two weeks, and Actors Co-Op (FB) has a great 2017-2018 season. Visit their website for more information.

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

Upcoming Shows:

After this show, we ran to Thousand Oaks for Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Questionable Financial Situation | “Voysey Inheritance” @ Actors Co-Op

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 02, 2017 @ 12:53 pm PDT

Th Voysey Inheritance (Actors Co-Op)What would you do if you discovered that your local bank was cheating people? Oh, it was paying interest and making loans and such, but if all the depositors came and wanted their money, they would discover it was all a house of cards, and no one could be made whole. If it was 2008, you’ld likely be OK — after all, that’s why we have deposit insurance. Close the bank, pay the depositors, and sell any remaining assets to another bank.

But suppose this was in the time before deposit insurance? The turn of the 20th Century, in fact — 1904. Suppose it was the family bank — the one keeping your lifestyle afloat? Would you just take the hit and liquidate then — paying people pennies on the dollar, and making some destitute? Or would you keep the sham going on the hope that you could recover and pay everyone back?

That’s the question at the heart of The Voysey Inheritance, a play by Harley Granville-Barker adapted by David Mamet, which is finishing up its run at Actors Co-op (FB) today, part of the Actors Co-Op’s Actors Co-Op Too! summer series — a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

The Voysey Inheritence explores a financial dilemma encountered by the Voysey Family in Edwardian England.  Mr. Voysey is the head of a financial institution in London, inherited from his father. His son and partner, Edward, discovers that his father has been pilfering money from client accounts, paying them any interest and payments, but otherwise speculating with their capital, skimming any profits. He has been continuing the scheme with the hopes of making thing right, but this offends the son’s sensibilities. Further, the father has been using the funds to support other family member’s financial needs: son Hugh’s art, son Booth’s position, daughter Ethel’s dowrey, and so forth. When the father dies and the son inherits the institution, what is to be done? Especially, what is to be done after he discovers that most of the family knew of the sham, and kept it going to preserve his position? Does he liquidate, does he try and make the smaller accounts whole, does he try to make everyone whole? And what will he do when it all comes crashing down — as it eventually must.

As this show started, I didn’t know what to make of this? An odd Edwardian parlor drama? But as the story unfolded, I got caught up in it. It is surprisingly timely, especially given the aforereferenced situation we faced in 2008, as well as many of the financial charades undertaken or encouraged by many of today’s leaders.

Of course, it helped that there were top flight performances under the direction of veteran stage director David Atkinson (FB). That’s pretty amazing if you harken back to what the Actors Co-Op Too! series is and what that likely means: minimal rehearsal, newer actors, no budget — acting for the love of the craft. Atkinson and his team worked together to craft an excellent performance. Yes, there was the occasional minor line pause that became noise, but on whole it was excellent in character personification and intensity

In what I would characterize as the lead position was Thomas Chavira (FB) as Edward Voysey, who had perhaps the shortest bio in the program. Based on that and his resume, a new-ish actor who gave a very strong performance in this role. He brought the right level of hesitancy, honesty and passion to this role. Also strong was McKensie Garber (FB) as Alice Maitland, his cousin / fiancee (yes, I found that a bit odd as well). McKensie is another new actor, recently moved to LA after a stint as Miss Missouri. My eye was first drawn to her face, but her performance won me over quickly with a great sense of fun underneath the surface — a sense that made the ending of the play additionally sweet. It turns out we also had fun talking with her mom before the show, but I didn’t make the connection between the actor on stage and actual person until I looked at the program at intermission.

The patriarch of the family, Mr. Voisey, was played by Townsend Coleman (FB). He only appears is the first half of the production, but gave a strong performance in his interactions with Chavira’s Edward.

The other members of the Voysey family were played by Nancy Atkinson as Mrs. Voysey, E. K. Dagenfield (FB) as Peacey / Trenchard Voysey, Christian Edsall (FB) as Major Booth Voysey, Matthew Grondin as Hugh Voysey, Jorie Janeway (FB) as Honor Voysey, and Michelle Parrish (FB) as Ethel Voysey. Ms. Atkinson played the matriarch well; a small role where the primary characteristic was being hard of hearing. I SAID, BEING HARD OF HEARING. Dagenfield, who is a regular dialect coach at Co-Op, handled the one small scene as Trenchard in the 2nd scene well, but shone as Peacey in the 3rd scene in his interaction with Edward over a request for money. Edsall was strong as Maj. Booth in the bulk of the play after a weak introduction in the first scene (how the character is written, not the actor). Grondin’s Hugh was also stronger in the second act, especially in his interactions with Edward and the rest of the family. His character, Hugh, gets some of the most insightful lines about the corrupting power of money. Also, for whatever reason, Grondin’s photo was seemingly left out of the actor montage photo that Co-Op tweeted and I incorporated into the image for this post. Parrish’s Ethel is written very shallowly, but what characterization is there is captured well by Parrish. That leaves Janeway’s Honor (a name you never see these days). She has a very interesting characterization — initially capturing a stiffish-enigma, but bringing out some interesting depth as the play progresses — the one character to whom, perhaps, money never meant anything in particular with family being more important. A small role, but one that is very telling about the position of women in Edwardian society.

Rounding out ensemble was Bruce Ladd (FB) as George Booth and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Reverend Evan Colpus. Ladd gave a particularly strong performance during the second act, bringing out a lot of fire and emotion.

Being an Actors Co-Op Too! production, the production team was small: Director David Atkinson (FB) doing double and triple duty as the sound and lighting designer, actor Thomas Chavira (FB) doing double-duty as the producer, and Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB as the stage manager. Kudos to whomever did the props on the budget for the excellent choice and taste in fountain pens: I could see a Montblanc, a Cross, and a Retro. I just happen to be a fountain pen aficionado, and it’s a nice choice (and one that no one else in the audience would likely notice, even if I do prefer Shaeffers).

The last performance of The Voisey Inheritence is today at 2:30pm. The performance is free, although a $10 or more donation is requested from non-subscribers. Information on the location may be found at the Actors Co-op (FB) website.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). Next weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) if the tickets go up on Goldstar; otherwise, we may do Measure for Measure as part of free Shakespeare from the Independent Shakespeare Company (FB) in Griffith Park.. The third weekend brings  Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB) followed by Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a hold for Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), and HOLDs for Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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HFF17 Batch 6: Transition / Khant Hotel / Bachlorette

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 26, 2017 @ 9:47 pm PDT

Transition (HFF17)userpic=fringeOur last day of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) was also musical free. The day brought us a sandwich: two excellent shows (Transition and Bachelorette by Leslye Headland) with something barely palatable (Khant Hotel) in the middle.

***

Unlike our two previous Trump-related outings (Zombie Clown Trump and Trump in Space), Transition (non-HFF website), written by Ray Richmond (FB), is a somewhat serious voice of protest. It was written by a journalist fed up with the results of the November election. He sensed that there was both dramatic and comedic potential that explored the first closed door meeting between President Obama and President-Elect Trump after the election, especially given the personal history between the two men. The result was a semi-serious two-person show that actually opened well before the Fringe (back in March 2017), and that reminds me of one of my favorite TV shows that was resurrected as a staged reading series, Meeting of Minds, or an excellent theological exploration called Discord: The Gospel According to Jefferson, Darwin, and Tolstoy (JDT Project). There was, however, one yuuuge difference between Meeting of Minds and the JDT Project and Transition: in the first two, there was more than one intellectual in the room. In Transition, there is one intellectual and a narcissistic businessman.

The discussion in Transition is wide ranging, and attempts to cover many of the serious topics that a President-Elect would need to deal with, from the Middle East to Healthcare to the role of a President to proper national security to …. you get the idea. President Obama diligently wants to brief Trump on all these issues so he will be prepared. Trump, however, wishes there was more gold in the White House. He wants to rearrange the walls to make the rooms larger, more like Mar-A-Lago. He is more interested in trotting out campaign rhetoric and right-wing talking lines. The only way President Obama can get him to listen at all is to play into his game and to his ego, until the President has enough. It is really a great telling example of the different in temperament between the two men. Although I too am dismayed that such a man was taking over the office of President, I found this fascinating in a “What have we done?” kind of way.

The two lead actors — Joshua Wolf Coleman (FB) as President Obama and Harry S. Murphy (FB) as President-Elect Trump — may not look 100% like the persons they are portraying. But they are close enough, and they have the mannerisms and the voice down sufficiently to be believable as them. As the play goes on, your disbelief is suspended and they become the two men. It is a remarkable portrayal. Trevor Alkazian (FB) provides a supporting role as Randall, the White House intern/assistant.

This is a play that I strongly recommend that people see — whether in the Fringe incarnation or subsequent public or private productions. The message it conveys about the man this country elected in 2017 is chilling in an absurdist way, because, indeed, absurdity is in the Oval Office. For anyone that loves Meeting of Minds, for anyone that loved JDT, for anyone that loves great political dialogue — this is the play for you.

At the conclusion of the play, the rapper Dylan presents an original rap song, “The Divide”, that summarizes where this country is today — divided.

Transition was directed by Lee Costello (FB), who kept the pace quick and the characters believable. This was supported by Kate Bergh (FB)’s costumes and Fritz Davis‘s videos. Shelia Dorn designed Mr. Trump’s wig. Other production credits: David B. Marling (FB) – Sound Design; Kiff Scholl (FB) – Graphic Design; Erica Lawrence (FB) – Stage Manager; Danny Crisp (FB) – Running Crew. Transition was originally produced by Racquel Lehrman (FB) and Theatre Planners.

The Fringe production of Transition has concluded its run. I’m sure there will be future productions, so visit the play’s website for more information.

***

Khant Hotel (HFF17)Our second play, Khant Hotel, had such potential. The description of the show had a lot of promise: “Taking a vacation and staying at a hotel should be a luxury experience. Trying to maximize profit, Ka Hotels have taken a page from the airlines’ customer service handbook. This is the story of Livia’s stay at a Ka hotel. The poor treatment she receives leads her to seek the hotel’s owner, Mary. Persuaded to change the way the hotel operates, Mary breaks away from Ka Hotels. Mary’s new Khant Hotel treats Livia better. Her stay is more enjoyable, until it’s over.”

The promise of this show was dashed, however, from the beginning where there was a scene about a meek female engineer who must pass the “Pro E” exam in 24 hours, with no preparation, or lose her job. Unfortunately for the author (who was also the writer, director, and lead actress), Lindsey Blackman, both my wife and I are engineers, we know about the process of becoming a Professional Engineer, and we know numerous female engineers — none of whom are as meek and as milquetoast as the character portrayed on stage. Further, we are both of the belief that female engineers must be portrayed as a noble calling™, something that encourages other women to come into the field. This portrayal did none of that. The most galling aspect, however, is that the author, seemingly has an engineering degree and should have known better. In fact, her day job was once as an engineer and she should have known what PEs are like. Hint: Try talking to some of the wonderful folks at the Society of Women Engineers. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the folks behind the sponsoring organization for the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security)

But that wasn’t the only problem with this show. The premise itself was simplistic and problematical. The notion was that hotels would start charging like airlines for every little service: fee for a key, fee for the elevator, fee for the stairs, three in a cramped room, unexpected bumping for higher priority passengers. A reasonable extrapolation, but the execution was poor. Furthermore, the production was poor. There was far too much on the stage, far too much rearrangement — so much so, that actors were bumping into props all the time. Sight lines were blocked by props and stage pieces. This production really needs a lot of work.

The actors did the best with the material they had. In addition to Lindsey Blackman in the lead, the acting team consisted of Jill Czarnowski (FB), Jennifer Wilson, John Siscel (FB), Jessica Dowdeswell (FB★, FB), Thang, Alex Dorcean (FB), Robin Stepanek (FB) and Cody Shampine. I’d give you character names, but the only form of “program” was a postcard with a picture of the actors. Hint: If one of the purposes of Fringe is to get seen and get exposure, than it is critical to respect your actors by providing their information to audience members.

The production was directed by Lindsey Blackman. The Fringe page gives no other credits, such as stage manager.

Sunday’s production was the last performance of Khant Hotel. About the only thing good that I can say about the piece is that it wasn’t at the level of Robot Monster – The Musical. There was at least a reasonable idea in Khant Hotel, however poorly executed. In the right hands, that seed of an idea could have been turned into something much more humorous and realistic. Alas, poor Robot Monster didn’t even have that.

***

Bachlorette by Leslye Headland (HFF17)Our final Fringe production was Bachelorette, written by Leslye Headland. This was another show where we were drawn in by the Fringe description: “Ten years out of high school, Regan, Gena and Katie convene in the luxurious bridal suite of their old friend, Becky, the night before her wedding in New York City. Fueled by jealousy and resentment, the girls embark on a night of debauchery that goes from playfully wasted to devastatingly destructive. Their old fears, unfulfilled desires and deep bonds with each other transform a prenuptial bender into a night they’ll never forget. A wicked black comedy about female friendship and growing up in an age of excess.”

As the production started, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. There were a bunch of beautiful (at least in looks) women, downing liquor, trashing personal property of a friend, snorting coke, smoking pot, popping pills…. while at the same time insulting their “fat” friend who was about to get married to a very rich man. In fact, much of the play was setting up the conflict between these women, and demonstrating how pointless and meaningless their lives had become. There was really nothing important between them; even their friendships were discarded when it wasn’t convenient.

Yet, when I was just about to write the play off  and just enjoy the eye candy, it suddenly acquired a remarkable meaning and depth — in fact, a depth that made this one of the best things I saw during Fringe. At the end, the true friendships were discovered, inner strengths were found, and destructive personalities were exposed for what they are. The characters who were made fun of for the bulk of the play or dismissed turned out to be the real people, and the popular folks from high school days — well, they got their comeuppance.

This play formed an interesting trilogy with the other plays with similar themes — The ABCs and Reasons to be Pretty — demonstrating what true beauty is, what true strength is. It isn’t always what society views as conventional; it isn’t always the popular image of what is beautiful. It is the inner strength, the inner confidence, the whole person. It is a beauty that the lead in Khant Hotel should have possessed, but didn’t.

The performances in this were top-notch. Our popular drug-using girls were played by Skyler Patton (FB) as Gena, Julia Coulter (FB) as Regan, and Amy Huckabay (FB) as Katie. Their dates were Steven Cohen/FB as Joe and Jalil Houssain (FB) as Jeff. The bride-to-be, Becky, was played by Amie Hobson (FB). I especially enjoyed the performances of Coulter, Huckabay, and Cohen; they were just remarkable.

The production was directed by Matt Chupack (FB), with co direction by Skyler Patton (FB). Costumes were by Mallory Evelyn (FB). Lighting and sound design was by Stacey Abrams, who was also likely the stage manager. Bachelorette was produced by Skyler Patton (FB) and Julia Coulter (FB).

Unlike most Fringe shows, you haven’t missed this show. It was chosen to be part of the Fringe Encore series, and will have two more performances in July. Information should be available on the show’s ticketing page.

***

And that’s it — that’s Fringe 2017. We saw a total of 17 shows over the month of June. What was the best? I think it was a toss up between the last plays: Bachelorette, The ABCs, Reasons to be Pretty, and Transition. Also strong were the two reviews, Slightly Off Broadway and Hello Again. My wife’s favorite was Conversations ’bout the Girls. All in all, a good Fringe.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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HFF17 Batch 5: The ABCs / Reasons to be Pretty

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 26, 2017 @ 9:47 pm PDT

The ABCs (HFF17)userpic=fringeThe evening of our penultimate day of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) changed our focus from musicals to dramas / dramadies / comedies. We started in the early evening with  The ABCs (FB) at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, and continued the theme with Reasons to be Pretty.

***

The description of The ABCs (FB) in the Fringe catalog is what caught my eye: “The ABCs explores fantasy and the imagination in the lives of teenage girls. Navigating the realm between childhood and adult hood, teenage girls are forced to give up the trappings of the young, like imaginary friends. They are thrust in a new, technologically unimaginable adult world filled with fantastical idols like the Kardashians. How can we ask teenagers to give up one fantasy for another? What happens when fantasy, imagination, and social media blend? How do teenagers navigate the world today when their “stories” can only be ten-seconds and will literally disappear on apps like Snapchat? The ABCs follows one girl, Dakota, on her quest for achievable perfection and fantasy fulfilled in a world that tells her that this is possible.”

The subject matter discussed here — the impact on teens of social media — was very timely. A Gen Z teen has recently joined our household — one who is obsessed with her phone, obsessed with Snapchat, and who is obsessed with looks and makeup. Hence, the subject here was appropos, and would provide an opportunity for all of us to learn, and to do what theatre does best: stimulate discussion.

The center of this story is a group of girls called “The ABCs” who are just about to graduate from high school. These girls — Adriana, Bella, and Caity — are obsessed with fashion and the fashion icons of the Internet. Their goal is to be perfect, and each has gone so far as to ensure they have the right clothes, the right makeup, and most importantly, the right body, for that perfection. They want to be “10”s, and if that means having breast augmentation, butt augmentation, or lip augmentation — well, that’s the price of perfection and who wouldn’t want to be perfect as the media wants you to be. Into this group comes Dakota as a provisional member. The ABCs like her: she has a great Instagram, she posts the right stuff online, follows the right fashion idols. However, she’s a new transfer student with an unknown past, and more importantly, she’s an “8”. For her to be admitted to full membership, she needs a better bust. Dakota’s best friend, Margot, agrees. She ultimately convinces Dakota that she must get the surgery and be perfect. There’s only one problem: money. Whereas the other girls had found various, umm, ways to get their enhancements funded, Dakota’s father refuses. But Dakota is convinced she must have the surgery to be beautiful, and she sees her salvation in the story of the Bling Ring. If she can just convince her friends in The ABCs to help her break into a rich friends house while the family is away, steal a few items that can be sold, she can have the money to get the surgery. Will the The ABCs value perfection over principles? That’s the central conflict in the story, and its resolution teaches lessons not only to the members of The ABCs, but to Dakota as well.

That’s about what I knew about the show going in. Most reviewers haven’t spilled the beans on the ending. I won’t as well, but for one thing: by the end of the play, the circumstances teach Dakota that she must stand up for herself, that she must learn to embrace her own beauty and not chase the imaginary perfection that the Internet creates. That is a vital message — and it is a message that will be echoed in a different way in our last Saturday show, as well as our last Sunday show.

In The ABCs, playwright Monica Trausch (FB) has crafted a  story that speaks to today’s teens and sends a vitally important message: that the perfection that society pushes is false and ultimately dangerous, and that the best thing is to love yourself for you. That’s an underlying belief of mine. A friend once said that perfection is when you cannot make mistakes and nothing changes. That only happens when you are dead. Life is being the best we can be an embracing our imperfections. So I truly think this is a wonderful play; perhaps one of the best I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.

The ensemble presenting the story was very strong: Diane McNulty (FB) as Dakota, Lani Engstrom (FB) as Margot, Josette Canilao (FB) as Adriana, Lauren Henning (FB) as Bella, and Ashley Nichol (FB) as Caity. Engstrom as Margot was out even before the show started, in character, interacting with the audience. The others had the teen mannerisms down pat; one might believe they had recently been teens :-).  I’d like to particularl highly both McNulty and Nichol’s performances which were spot-on.

The production was directed by Sarah Cho, with fight direction by Chris Sanders. The ABCs was produced by Benno Rosenwald, Mooki Entertainment, and Elisabeth Rogge (FB).

As Fringe is over, what I saw Saturday was the final production of the show. As The ABCs did not get an encore award, it is unlikely to get an extension even thought it sold to sold-out shows.

***

Reasons to be Pretty (HFF17)Another timely play, given the addition to our household, is Neil LaBute (FB)’s play Reasons to be Pretty, as it deals with what we consider to be beauty in society, and how different types of men and women perceive beauty. This year at Fringe I lucked out: there were two companies producing Reasons to be Pretty. One version had a multiethnic cast as was taking place in the heart of Fringe: at the Dorie Theatre of the Complex (where we saw The ABCs). This version was getting rave reviews both on the Fringe site and at Better Lemons, and they had postcards and everything. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit that version in our schedule. What we were able to fit was the Maxwellton Productions version, it had no postcards anywhere. There wasn’t even an image online, and the event page they created had nothing on it. The sole image on the Fringe project page was of the cover of the printed play. This version was being held at the Asylum/Underground space over on Wilton (where we saw Wombat Man many years ago), and its final production was about an hour after The ABCs ended.

The good news is: even without the publicity, this production was sold out and was excellent. So what if I had to craft them an image for this writeup — the show was worth it (however, next time, Maxwellton, at least create some publicity). Trying to figure out the lack of publicity, I think it was because all of the actors trained at Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio (FB), and this was a showcase for their students under the auspices of Fringe. The lead actress is involved with Maxwellton, so that organization helped to mount this. They didn’t need the publicity because most attendees either knew the cast, or were invited through the school. There were just a hapless few of us unwashed masses that actually read the description in the Fringe catalog and were enticed in. In any case, however we got here, we got a treat.

Reasons to be Pretty tells the story of two couples: Greg and Steph, who have been dating for a while, and Kent and Carly, who are married. Greg and works with Kent in a warehouse; Carly is a security guard there. Carly and Steph (who is a hairdresser) are best friends. The catalyst for the show is a seemingly small incident: In a discussion between Greg and Kent, Kent is talking about a new hire at the warehouse, how beautiful she is, and how he would like to get in her pants. He asks Greg what he thinks. Greg indicates the new hire looks fine, but he prefers Steph, who looks regular. Carly overhears this and reports the discussion, and World War III has been started. The little word “regular” has been perceived as an insult by Steph, who considers her face to be her most beautiful feature. The bulk of the play is the disintegration of the relationship, and the while the audience gains understanding about what it is that Greg really loves about Steph. In parallel to this is the story of Kent and Carly. Unlike “regular” Steph, Carly is beautiful, and Kent loves her for her physical appearance: her legs, her ass, her breasts, and her face. But he also chases beauty in other women… and you can guess what happens.

Reasons to be Pretty is really a study of different type of men, and their attitude towards women: One, Greg, loves women not for just the physical but for the person inside. However, he makes one slipup, then keeps tripping over his tongue by not realizing it. Ultimately, he loses the one he loves over his mistake, but never loses the love for her. The other, Kent, goes for the physical. This lust is what does him in. Will he ultimately be happy, or will he go from conquest to conquest, leaving broken relationships in his wake. As for the women, there is one who is secure in her beauty, but knows it is the only reason her man is with her. She has to keep up that beauty at all costs, and when it invariably fades from the perfection she desires (as it always does), the relationship disintegrates because it was built on the superficial. The other is insecure in her beauty, and believes she must have that beauty acknowledged or she can’t have confidence in herself. Not getting that reassurance, she implodes the relationship to find a man who will give it to her. Where will she find her happiness? The play is a brilliant expose of people and how beauty — or the perception thereof — impacts lives.

The performances here were top notch. The cast consisted of Matt Klemenz (FB) as Greg, Erika Rose (FB) as Steph, Andrew Gonzalez (FB) as Kent, and Railynne Danzot (FB) as Carly. All brought a lot of fire and heart to their performances, especially Erika in the opening scene with Matt. Their performances just grabbed you for the roller coaster ride of this story, and you were just drawn into it.

Reasons to be Pretty was directed by Emma Shalaway (FB) and Janice Park (FB), assisted by Ansley Rowe (FB). It was produced by Erika Rose (FB) (who served as executive producer), Janice Park (FB), and Emma Shalaway (FB). There are no credits for stage management. Note that this information comes from the show’s Fringe page — it was not in the handout provided to attendees nor were there bios associated with the production team on the Fringe page. The school may teach these folks how to act and direct; it does not, however, teach them how to properly publicize and promote their show, and how to recognize their production team. Those logistical elements are equally important to the success of a show, and it is the one place where this production of RtbP could learn from the other production of RtbP.

Not surprisingly, although this production was excellent, we saw the final production and it did not win a Fringe encore award. Your only hope is to contact a producer, if you can track them down. Hopefully, my sleuthing will benefit you.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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HFF17 Batch 4: Hello Again, Slightly Off-Broadway, Trump in Space

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 26, 2017 @ 9:46 pm PDT

Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman (HFF17)userpic=fringeOur penultimate day at the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) started with our last three musicals, ranging from parodies of old (Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman) to parodies of new (Slightly Off Broadway) to  a walking talking parody elected to office (Trump in Space). All in all, it was a great start to the day.

***

Our first Fringe show of the day was Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. This is a show we’ve seen — nay, produced — before. We had the lead, Linden Waddell (FB), perform her one woman show as a fundraiser for our synagogue auxiliaries back in October. It was a great show then, and she brought it back for the Fringe (where it won a Fringe Encore award tonight!).

The Fringe version of the show was a cut-down version of our synagogue’s show (see, you should have come), given the limitations of Fringe. Still, a large number of songs were covered: There is Nothing Like a Lox; Green Stamps; Academy Award Medly: Call Me / Secret Code / Chopped Liver / Overweight People; Shticks Medly; Sir Greenbaum’s Madrigal; Your Mother’s Here to Stay; Skin; One Hippopotami; Night and Day (with punctuation marks included); Harvey and Sheila; Smog Gets In Your Eyes; All of My Laughter (from The Fig Leaves are Falling); Shake Hands with your Uncle Max; and Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.

Listening to the crowd, there was a mix of young and old, and you could tell who was where by who laughed at what. What this meant was that for many, the show was an introduction to an artist they had never heard before (sigh – this is what happens when Dr. D goes off the public airwaves — oh, mighty MET, where have you gone). The laughter was raucous, and the show was well received.  This is a show that young and old will enjoy, although you might have to explain some of the references to the younger folk.

Linden was accompanied during the show by accompanist Marjorie Poe, who joins in on a few songs.  The show was directed by Janet Miller (FB). Stacey Abrams was the stage manager. PS: Linden is booked by Jeannine Frank / Frank Entertainment.

As the show won a Fringe Encore Award, there will be more performances in July and possibly August. Check the show’s Fringe Page for more information. You can also check out Linden’s page for the show, which gives upcoming appearances.

***

Slightly Off Broadway (HFF17/Chromolume)The second Fringe musical of the day was from a theatre company we know and are growing to love — and, full disclosure, a company where we are subscribers: Chromolume Theatre (FB). Their Fringe entry this year was Slightly Off Broadway, a collection of 20 parady songs with music drawn from the catalog of Broadway and Movie musicals, and lyrics written by Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB), who also served as director.

As I was having too much fun during the show to scribble down all the parody songs, I’ll lift the list from another review: «“On My Phone” (to the music from Les Miserables) to “A Whole New Girl” (Aladdin) about dating on Tinder to “Something That’s Mean” (Little Shop of Horrors) about FaceBook revenge (to a) ticking biological clock “Maybe” (Annie), the high cost of visiting Disneyland “The Fast Pass Line” (The Lion King), obsessions with Lin Manuel Miranda “So Stoked” (Mary Poppins) and TV’s Law and Order SVU “Officer Benson” (West Side Story)…. Even the Fringe Festival itself gets “What I Did for Fringe” (A Chorus Line).»

The quote should give you an idea of the range of parody in the show. There was even a great Trump parody song, based on a song from Shrek. Seems appropriate, but who could ever fall in love with an Ogre?

Overall, I found the songs very cute and entertaining, and fun to listen to. The time of the show flew by far too fast. For someone — like me — who knows cast albums well — it was a joy. It was also the level of entertainment we’ve come to expect from Chromolume.

The songs were performed by Kelvin Ralph Chou (FB), Rita Outtrim (FB★, FB), Ken Maurice Purnell (FB) [who we saw in Zanna Don’t], Eleen Hsu-Wendlandt (FB), and the author, Bonnie Joy Sludikoff (FB). All were great to listen to and had wonderful voices, and seemed to create characters as necessary to fit the songs. Paul Cady (FB) was the musical director and accompanist. Rebecca Schoenberg was the stage manager.

Alas, we saw the last performance of Slightly Off Broadway, as it didn’t win an Encore award. You can, however, catch Chromolume Theatre (FB)’s next production: Pacific Overtures.

***

Trump in Space (HFF17)Our final musical of Fringe was another commentary show on the election of Trump: Trump in Space. The basic premise of the show is simple: It is 400 years in the future. The policies of the Trump administration resulted in the Earth blowing itself to smithereens, and humanity is now on starships searching for a new home: Polaris IV. The captain of one of these ships, the USC (United States of Commerce, “Opportunity at all costs!”) Arizona is Capt. Natasha Trump, the great great great … great granddaughter of the Donald. She has been sent to capture and destroy the captain of the USS California (a ship of the resistance) — Capt. Gary Hart. Trump’s crew consists of Cmdr. Sessions, Lt. Cmdr Palin, and Lt. Josh Christie. Hart’s crew includes Carter and BoyGirl Clinton. I should note that the Trump side is lead by a shadowy Executive, of whom all you can see is orange hair.

The premise itself was clever: a mashup of political commentary and Star Trek, down to the style of the uniforms. The character names and mannerisms were a bit heavy handed, but this was an improv team at work so that wasn’t a surprise. The execution was funny, with a number of repeated bits (such as the elevator) that were hilarious. There was a strong improv element to the show. At our show, for example, it looked like two songs were just tossed in a very hilarious fashion. All of the acting team were trained improv specialists, so this worked well. In short, it was enjoyable and funny; however, it wasn’t “high art” and doesn’t have the potential — at least in its current form — of becoming a broader longer-lasting political commentary musical such as Bush is Bad or Clinton the Musical. For that to happen, I think a little greater focus and direction is required.

For the most part, the acting team was strong: Gillian Bellinger (FB) was an extremely cute and strong Captain Trump, and Scott Palmason (FB)’s Gary Hart worked well in his interactions with her. Supporting Bellinger was the Trump team: Jim Shipley (FB) as Palin, Kevin Richards [Gardner] (FB) as Sessions, and Landon Kirksey (FB) as Lt. Josh. They fit their characters well, played to the fun, and as such, were fun to watch. Supporting Palmason’s Hart was the crew of the California: Nikki Bittogrino (FB) as Carter and Muriel Montgomery (FB) as BoyGirl Clinton. Watch these two during the jail scenes — they are just a hoot. All of these folks sang reasonable well, and were just great at the improv.

Rounding out the performers were either Carrie Long (FB) or Rachel Boller (FB) as the Executive (I’m not sure which one was at our show, but the one that was had a lot of vocal trouble on her last song), and Don Schlossman (FB) as the voice of the Executive.

The show featured book and lyrics by Gillian Bellinger (FB) and Landon Kirksey (FB), and music by Tony Gonzalez (FB) and Sam Johnides (FB). Gonzalez served as music director and provided the on-stage music. I’d like to say that the songs were memorable, but none stuck in my memory. That could just be Fringe overload.

The production was directed by Matt Zettell, assisted by C.J. Leavens (FB). Annabeth Rickley (FB) was the choreographer. Sarah Emily Rish (FB) was the stage manager.

Alas, Fringe is over, and so I would normally say that you missed your chance to see this show. However, the show was the recipient of an Encore award, and so will live again during July and August. Check the show’s Fringe page for information on dates and tickets.

***

Fringe Batch 5 will address the remaining Saturday shows, and Batch 6 will address Sunday’s shows.

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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HFF17 Batch 3: Zombie Clown Trump, Conversations/Girls, and Inversion

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 18, 2017 @ 8:16 pm PDT

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

***

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

Yes, this was one of those shows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows: June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Louis Jordan in Paris | “Five Guys Named Moe” @ Ebony Rep

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 12, 2017 @ 8:00 pm PDT

Five Guys Name Moe (Ebony Rep)If I was to say the phrase “Five Guys” to most of you, you would probably say that you prefer In-N-Out. When I think of “Five Guys”, however, I don’t think burgers. I think An American In Paris. Let me explain why.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw the closing performance of the Clarke Peters (FB)’s 1992 Tony-nominated musical Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB). It was a delightful performance, high energy, great music, wonderful singing, dancing, and I left on a high. But I also left thinking about An American in Paris.

When I saw An American In Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) recently, I wrote “We went expecting to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. ” That didn’t make it bad, mind you. It was a wonderful dance show with wonderful music. I just had an inconsequential plot.

Five Guys Named Moe is a musical that celebrates the music of bandleader Louis Jordan. As they write in his entry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “In the Forties, bandleader Louis Jordan pioneered a wild – and wildly popular – amalgam of jazz and blues. The swinging shuffle rhythms played by singer/saxophonist Jordan and his Tympany Five got called “jump blues” or “jumpin’ jive,” and it served as a forerunner of rhythm & blues and rock and roll.” Five Guys Named Moe delights in this music. It showcases songs Jordan wrote. It exaults in songs that he made famous. From “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” to “Pusk Ka Pi Shie Pie” to “Saturday Night Fish Fry” to “Choo, Choo, Ch’bookie” to the classic “Caldonia” (“What!”) — the show is just a rollicking dance and music festival with that leaves you happy.

However, the plot — well — the plot itself is meaningless. A down on his luck alcoholic, Nomax (Obba Babatundé (FB)), has forgotten the birthday of the woman he loves.  The Five Moes — No Moe (Jacques C. Smith (FB)), Big Moe (Octavius Womack (FB★; FB)), Little Moe (Trevon Davis (FB★; FB), Four-Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (FB★; FB)), and Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony (FB)) — pop out of the radio to teach him the error of his ways. Through song and dance. [And even that inconsequential plot is abandoned for most of the second act when they do their “gig”].

And you know what? You don’t care about the plot. The music is great. The singing is great. The dance is great. The band* was smokin’. The audience was dancing (especially two really cute twin little girls up in front). You walk out with a big smile because the execution is perfection. The production team cast well, and the talent shows.

By the way, it wasn’t just the actors. When I said the band was smokin’, I meant it. They got a chance to jam at the enter-acte, and after the curtain they let loose with a closing number that highlighted each member and just swung. The six on the band platform — Abdul Hamid Royal (FB) [Musical Director, Piano]; Louis Van Taylor (FB) [Saxophone / Clarinet]; Christopher Gray [Trumpet]; Chris Johnson (FB) [Trombone]; Land Richards (FB) [Drums]; and Ian Seck/FB [Bass] — complemented the six actors perfectly.

On the other side of the production, things were pretty simple. Edward E. Haynes Jr. scenic design was simple: a scrim, a few props, some benches. Similarly, the costumes by Naila Sanders (FB) were pretty simple: suits, tuxes, and matching plaid jackets for the Moes. The sound design by John Feinstein/FB was as it should be: mostly unnoticeable, although for a bit during the first act  it sounded …. less than full range. I’m guessing that was a speaker problem. Most impressive on the design team was the lighting design of Dan Weingarten. Weingarten made wonderful use of the movers and gobos above the stage to create some wonderful visual effects that were just a delight to watch.

The production was directed and choreographed by Keith Young (FB). Dominique Kelley (FB) was the associate choreographer.  Other relevant credits: Ed de Shae (FB) — Production Stage Manager; Ross Jackson (FB) — Assistant Stage Manager.

Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Wren T. Brown (FB), whose 53rd birthday was yesterday. At the conclusion of the show, the cast and crew celebrated by leading the audience in the traditional Happy Birthday song (alas, not the Birthday Cake Polka, although that would have been cool). Mr. Brown introduced his family, and you could hear the gospel training in his voice — it was wonderful to hear. I do hope to be back at his theatre.

Alas, I caught the final performance of Five Guys Named Moe. But I’ll note that if you like the music of Louis Jordan, the new Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album Louie, Louie, Louie celebrates the music of Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima.

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

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

Upcoming Shows: June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned remaining schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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