Observations Along the Road

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

What The Hollywood Fringe Festival Needs… A Smart Scheduler

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Apr 10, 2015 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsI spent some time yesterday going through the list of shows at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival to figure out how I want to program my weekends in June. Previously, I was only able to hit one or two fringe shows. I’m still only going to be able to hit a small percentage (3.3%) (as I only have weekends available — weeknights — and even Friday night — in Hollywood is an impossibility with my work schedule), but I am going to be able to squeeze in a few more. Doing this, I realized what the HFF really needs: a smart scheduler. This scheduler should:

  1. Permit you to select the shows that are of interest to you, either individual, by category, by company, or any variety of selectors. It would also permit you to rank the shows from “must see” to “like to see” to “don’t schedule”
  2. Indicate the dates and time ranges you are available for shows throughout the festival period.
  3. Indicate the spacing you want between shows to accommodate transit time
  4. Indicating the meal times you want (ranges) and meal durations (so you can get lunch/dinner breaks)

With the above information, and the knowledge of show start times and running times, it would generate for you an optimal schedule that fit as many of the must-sees as possibles, and as many of the “likes to see” in the remaining spaces. After the ticket sales start, it would also have the capability to go out and ticket all the shows for you. The scheduling is a relatively complex CS problem to find the optimum schedule, but I do believe it should be doable. I think a website version would be best — I don’t believe in phone-apps for single-use purposes.

P.S.: Curious as to what shows I’m thinking about? Here’s the list of what I blocked onto my calendar: Clybourne ParkMax and Elsa. No Music. No Children., Wombat Man, Marry Me a Little, Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, Merely Players, Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, Medium Size Me, and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker. I had to work around some previously scheduled or blocked events: Grease (the Movie) at the Colony at 2pm on Sat. 6/6, a MoTAS Jethawks game in Lancaster (killing the entire day of 6/7), a morning Bat Mitzvah on Sat 6/13, a potential evening activity on Sun 6/14, and a drum corps show in Riverside on the last Fringe day, Sun 6/28. Shows that looked interesting, but I couldn’t schedule, were: Alien vs. MusicalBreaking BardNerd Anarchy: A Fantastic New Musical, Sin: A Pop Opera, Adam and Eve… and Steve, Stupid SongsAmelia’s Going DownEnshrouded in an Apocalyptic Mood, … and I’m sure there are others. With 241 shows (go to here and click “search”), so many sound interesting….

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An Icon Passes

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 07, 2015 @ 2:20 pm PDT

userpic=frebergSkimming the headlines while changing tasks today brought some real sad news: Stan Freberg has passed away at age 88. This is confirmed by a post on his son’s Facebook: “My father died this morning. I am ok. To me, the father I knew and loved dearly and still very much do left me over a decade ago. He was, and will always be my hero and I will carry his brilliant legacy forward as best I am able. RIP, Stan Freberg, 1926-2015. I love you, daddy.”

Stan was a large influence on my personal sense of humor, ever since I found and memorized “The United States of American, Volume I: The Early Years” when I was child. I was lucky enough to learn about, and be able to attend, a celebration of Stan’s 70 years in the industry at American Cinemateque in November.  Even then, you could see that Stan was in decline — the quick required augmentation from his wife, Hunter.

A man is remembered by the work he leaves behind. The breadth and scope of Stan’s work — from animated cartoons to advertising to humorous records and yes, even to the stage, will ensure that Stan Freberg will long be remembered.

Pardon me while I adjust the iPod to play a little Freberg in his memory, and finish off the day.

The Intimate Dimensions of Monkeys and Men

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 05, 2015 @ 9:19 am PDT

Trevor (Circle X)userpic=dramamasksUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know I’ve been deeply invested in the pro 99 seat theatre debate (FB). One of the things this movement has emphasized is the importance of supporting LA’s intimate theatres (99 seat and under) by attending shows (preferably with full-price tickets). So, based on this emphasis (as well as a glowing recommendation from Colin at Bitter Lemons, combined with having no theatre scheduled for Pesach weekend), I purchased full-price tickets to Trevor at Circle X Theatre (FB). Although I later saw tickets fly past on Goldstar, they were well worth the full price. This is an excellent show: well-performed, funny yet thought provoking, challenging yet accessible — a great example of what intimate theatre is in Los Angeles.

Before I go into the story of Trevor and my thoughts thereabout, a few words on the type of intimate theatre that Trevor represents. Unlike the monolithic intimate theatre view AEA has, intimate theatre in Southern California is wide and varied along multiple dimensions. We’re all aware of the dimension of budget: some shows are low budget, with only boxes on the stage and the power of actor’s performances to create everything else; others have fully-realized sets, extensive lighting, and production values. Another independent dimension is that of story: some theatres program existant accessible works, designed to draw in the community with only the occasional challenging property (REP East (FB) fits this model; their challenging work was the recent Doubt); others focus on new and emerging work (such as Circle X Theatre (FB)). There’s also the independent dimension of the type of actor: this is a continuum from community theatre actor (such as those drawn from Canyon Theatre Guild) to non-AEA actor to SAG/AFTRA actor to AEA actor; it is also a continuum from “fresh-out” to highly experienced (we’ve seen them all — REP is a mixture of community, non-union, and the occasional union; Blank is often unknowns but highly talented AEA; and Circle X was a number of highly experienced stage and screen actors clearly doing this for the material and exercise, not the job). Lastly, and also independent, is the dimension of financial success: some shows (while excellent) struggle to find the audience (alas, Doubt at REP was this way with few sold-out shows), whereas other shows pack the house (such as Avenue Q at REP or Trevor) — and even packed houses do not guarantee financial success, when the number of seats is limited any many seats are discount or comped. All these dimensions combine to form Los Angeles’ intimate theatre scene, and they are why a blanket fiat approach (such as proposed by AEA) simply does not work in this market. I won’t get on the soapbox now; rather, the distinction of these dimensions hit me as I watched Trevor and contrasted it to REP and other intimate theatre we have seen recently, from the decidedly low budget Pulp Shakespeare or ZJU’s shows, to the highly talented Redhead at Theatre West or Loch Ness at Chance to productions like Trevor. They all combine to make a special and valuable theatre ecosystem that we must protect; it is Los Angeles’ Amazon rain forest.

In any case, back to Trevor (which was written by Nick Jones). If you have read any of the reviews, you know the basics of the story: it is about a former TV chimpanzee named Trevor and his owner, Sandra in the decline of his career. Trevor simply wants the life that he had: to work and actor and be with people like Morgan Fairchild, and achieve success like his mentor, Oliver. Sandra simply wants a home with Trevor and a life that she knows. When a new neighbor with an infant child moves in and is threatened by the risk to safety that Trevor creates, the motivating factors of the story are set up. The Sheriff is called in; he brings in an Animal Control Officer to assess the situation. When the assessment occurs, the situation rapidly goes south — and I won’t say more.

As I said, I knew this setup. What I didn’t expect was the execution. I was thinking that we might see an actor made up to look chimpanzee-ish; perhaps even a monkey suit. But the only monkey-suit is the tuxedo on Oliver. Trevor is played by a man dressed like a man; the illusion of the chimpanzee (which does become real) is achieved solely by movement and behavior. This is the type of acting that one rarely sees and is to be treasured: the creation of illusion from the talent of the actor. It creates a level of investment in the story — letting this portrayal wash over you lets your mind go past the realism into the realm of metaphor, and thinking about what this story is really saying.

The message of Trevor, I believe, is multilevel. While watching it, my mind kept drawing parallels to the situation of my senior mother-in-law who is dealing with dementia. She’s in her own world, interpreting actions in relation to her world-view, and having dialogues that no one else is hearing. She’s Trevor, and those of us in the “real world” are the Sandras. We’re attempting to cope with a real-world situation that is rapidly deteriorating around us and spiraling out of control (while our Trevors remain oblivious). Seeing Trevor in this view reflects the power of the directoral choice to make Trevor human and not a man in a chimp costume; the costume would have destroyed that connection and meaning.

But is that the intent of Trevor. Many have complained about the last scene and have viewed it as unnecessary. Perhaps it is, if you focus only on the linear story of Trevor and his fate. But there is something telegraphed in that last scene that changes the interpretation of Trevor yet again. Jim, the Sheriff, who has been ogling the neighbor Ashley for a long time, has a line about how he saw himself like Trevor. This simple line layered yet another meaning on top of Trevor: are we all just animals under the surface. With the right pressure and situation, we’ll start flinging our poo everywhere, going out of control and endangering others. We may be creating the superficial impression that we can co-exist in proper society — driving cars, holding down jobs, being part of a family — while inside there is a monster who hasn’t been released. Again, a very thought provoking notion — one that comes precisely from the epilogue.

The epilogue also raises a third issue of Trevor: the extent to which we anthropomorphize animals and view them as human. We take both wild and domestic animals and ascribe to them human motivations and behaviors. Sandra did this to Trevor, but we’re all guilty of doing this to our dogs and cats and other pets we keep. Trevor points out the folly and risk of doing this: just because we have this belief they will behave as we will, they are animals underneath. Trevor points out that our anthropomorphism is a bad thing.

This, friends, is the power of theatre. One can view Trevor as the basic surface story: a tragi-comedy (dramedy?) about a woman and her chimp — and enjoy it on that level. One can see the parallels in Trevor to deeper commentary on the human condition — and enjoy that level as well. The presentation in an intimate forum (as opposed to the distance of a larger theatre like the Taper or even the Colony) serves to amplify the message. Trevor could be that man or woman sitting next to you; Trevor is right in front of you.

This is why this production of Trevor is so special; this is why you must go see this if you can find a seat. Just like all the multiple dimensions that create intimate theatre in Los Angeles, the multiple dimensions of the story and performances in Trevor combine to make something truly special — yet another diamond in the mix of gems and cubic zirconia and glass that make up LA theatre.

A large part of the success of Trevor is its execution, and a fair amount of credit should go to the director, Stella Powell-Jones (FB) (who is no relation to the playwright, but who is the granddaughter of Harold Pinter) [assisted by Joseph Patrick O’Malley (FB)). Her decision to play both Trevor and Oliver as humans with non-stereotypical chimpanzee mannerisms (e.g., basic movement, not the oooh-oooh grunt grunt) is what moves the story from surface comedy to deeper metaphor. This decision, combined with the human acting talent and experience, elevated this production.

As for that acting talent and experience — wow! (hmmm, quoting Steve Stanley now :-) ). In the lead positions were Laurie Metcalf (FB) as Sandra Morris and Jimmi Simpson (FB) as Trevor. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Metcalf from her TV work — but her real heart is theatre from her days with Steppenwolf in Chicago, and it is clear that Trevor is an exercise of love of the craft. This shows in her performance, which is powerful and touching and frantic and moving… portraying the wild swings of a woman in Sandra’s position dealing with all the poo that life has flung (not even thrown) at her. Matching her beat for beat is Simpson’s Trevor. Never at all the stereotypical chimp (except when necessary to ape another actor’s stereotype  — get it, “ape” :-) ), Simpson becomes Trevor primarily though physical movement and mannerisms — a walk that isn’t quite right, a quizzical nature that is disconnected and separate, but seemingly wise. These two leads work well together and are believable, and they make the story just fly through their performances.

The supporting roles are harder to tier and categorize. Let’s start with the clearly real people. As Ashley, the neighbor who raises the concern and fear about Trevor, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (FB) captures the youth and fear of a woman in her situation quite well. Her role is more a reflection of the audience — she’s the outside observer of the situation, attempting to bring rationality to a clearly insane situation (and she does that well). Assisting her in doing this is Jim Ortlieb (FB) as the Sheriff, Jim, and Malcolm Barrett (FB) as the Animal Control Officer, Jerry (as well as the P.A. in some scenes).  Ortlieb’s Jim captures the no-nonsense Sheriff quite well, and provides a wonderful undertone of … something else. This is subtle in the first act, with the odd mentions of Trevor officiating at Jim’s daughter’s baptism; it becomes even stranger in the epilogue with Jim’s ogling of Ashley and his comment about being more like Trevor than people realized. Ortlieb captures this subtext quite well. Barrett’s Jerry is wonderful in Act II, especially in how he relates to Trevor both before and after things go south. Quite believable.

Lastly, we have the two characters that are only Trevor’s fantasies. First, there is Brenda Strong (FB) as Morgan Fairchild. I was familiar with Strong from Dallas, but would not have recognized her in this role save for the program — again, the measure of a good actor, disappearing into the role. Sexy and very Morgan Fairchildish,  she perfectly captures the object of Trevor’s adoration. Then there is Bob Clendenin (FB) as Oliver, another acting chimpanzee who is seemingly Trevor’s mental mentor and model. Again, I was familiar with Clendenin from Cougar Town. Here, Clendenin was the personification of the song from Dirty Rotten Scoundels — he was that chimp in a suit, dressed up in Armani but still a chimp underneath. As with Trevor, the decision was not to play him overly chimp-like, which creates confusion when he talks about his human wife, half-human children, and three-quarter human grandchildren… but it all works out. His scenes were few but great.

Circle X also cast a full slate of understudies who we didn’t see, but some of whom I’ve had interactions with on the pro99 group: Tasha Ames (FB) (Ashley U/S); Jeff Galfer (FB) (Trevor U/S); Jamie Morgan (FB) (Morgan Fairchild U/S); William Salyers (FB) (Jim U/S); Kiff Scholl (FB) (Oliver U/S); Leslie Stevens (FB) (Sandra U/S); and Randolph Thompson (FB) (Jerry U/S).

Turning to the technical side of the equation: The scenic design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz was just remarkable. Remember how earlier I noted that intimate theatre sets range from simple boxes to full realizations. This was clearly in the latter camp, with loads of household stuff and household details that didn’t need to be there, but served to create a perfect atmosphere — from piles of clutter to hidden safes to downspouts to boxes of toys to … it was just a full realization that clearly took a lot of cost and effort that will never be recouped from ticket sales. The set was a labor of love. Supporting the set were the costumes of Elizabeth A. Cox (who also did the costumes for the recent Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN), assisted by Soo Jin Jeong/FB. This team didn’t take the easy way out — stock chimp suits. Trevor was dressed as a normal human, with the one affectation being suspenders. The costume made no chimp distinctions. The human costumes were … completely normal. The people looked as one would expect people in those roles to look. This is a good thing. The sound design by Jeff Gardner (FB) was primarily sound effects, but these worked quite well and were wonderfully directional (creating that wonderful sense of being behind and around, not a stage solely in front). The lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick (FB), assisted by Christina Schwinn (FB), served to illuminate the situation well. There were a few clever things I noted about the lighting design — the use of LED lighting when Oliver was first introduced; the use of some movers during some craziness; and the background lights as headlights in the closing scene. All little well done touches. An unusual credit was for Ned Mochel for Violence Design — presumably, this was to capture the violent behavior of Trevor — and it worked very well. Remaining credits of significance include: Shaunessy Quinn (FB) (Production Stage Manager); Lauren Sego (Master Electrician); Stuart Taylor/FB (Assistant Stage Manager); Bethany Tucker (Props Design). I’m not going to list all the Circle X credits (as they are online), but note that they have two of the oddest credits I’ve seen: Dustin Hughes as “Metrosexual in Residence” and Casey Smith as “Associate Artistic Director of Original Programming for Projects Related to Himself”, which I’m guessing is related to his current project in the other Circle X theatre.

Trevor, at  Circle X Theatre (FB) in Atwater Village, has been extended to April 19. I’ve heard that the remainder of the run is sold-out, but tickets, if available, are online here. They did appear to have a waiting list for each show, so you might get in by cancellations. Goldstar (linked earlier) as sold out.

Pro99 - Vote No NowAnother Pro99 Observation. As I was waiting to get into Trevor, the constitution of the audience struck me. Unlike most theatre where I’m one of the youngest there (I’m 55) — yes, I’m looking at you, The Colony Theatre (FB) — the audience for Trevor was significantly younger. Intimate theatre has this power — to introduce the joy of live theatre to the younger audience. Further, it has the power to show that theatre is much more than the touring musicals of Broadway that one sees at the Pantages; it appeals to the young mind that wants to think and be challenged. Intimate theatre in Los Angeles is how we grow the next generation of theatre audience. If Equity wants that well-heeled audience that will pay significant ticket prices so that actors may be paid what they are worth, and will donate significant amounts to keep theatre afloat when it is in danger of sinking, it must be prepared to carefully nurture and grow that audience, not shut it out. A wide and vibrant intimate theatre ecosystem — covering all dimensions — is necessary to do this. Actors should be paid and protected, but this should be with a tiered system that reflects all the dimensions of the equation, not an insensitive fiat (excuse me, promulgated) approach that bludgeons and destroys the ecosystem. Further, all actors are worthy of protection and payment — the rules and protections should not be different depending on the piece of cardboard or plastic in your pocket. Payment may vary based on skill and experience, but the union should not be a thug but a professional society that works to better the profession of live theatre for all, and provides additional long-term benefit (health care, pensions, investments) to protect the well-being of its collective members. AEA’s proposal does not do this: If you are an AEA actor in Los Angeles, vote no. We — and by we I mean not only the AEA actors and stage managers in Los Angeles but the non-unon actors, producers, dramatists, playwrights, other creatives, and the members of Actors, Fans, and Others (the Professional Audience Union), as well as unprofessional audience members :-) — want change, but not this change. Learn about the proposal and what you can do at www.ilove99.org.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The rest of April is taken up with either non-formal theatre or non-local theatre. Next weekend takes us back to Olde Englande with the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (just wait until AEA tries to unionize that — the Queen will be livid!). The following weekend brings two concerts:  Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) on Saturday, and the Rick Recht and Sheldon Low concert as part of the Songleaders Bootcamp at Temple Ahavat Shalom on Sunday. After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. Los Angeles theatre resumes in May with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Observation Charosis: Foreskin Facials, Breast Physics, Podcasts, and New Looks

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 04, 2015 @ 1:45 pm PDT

userpic=observationsIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clear out the accumulated links of a busy week. I’d say I’d make stew, but it is Pesach after all, so perhaps we’ll have observation charosis: a chopped of mix of a bunch of news articles, sweetened with a little wine and cinammon.

 

Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Pasadena Playhouse / Theatricum Botanicum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 04, 2015 @ 9:47 am PDT

userpic=theatre_musicalsTime for another post looking at theatre season announcements. Today’s post is triggered by the recent announcements of the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) season and the Theatricum Botanicum Seasons.

Pasadena Playhouse

We used to be long-time subscribers at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We weren’t treated well during the bankruptcy itself, and choose to move our mid-side theatre subscription to The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank. We’ve enjoyed the productions at the Colony, although they are not that adventurous or likely to move on to bigger and better things (you want adventurous productions that may move on, explore LA’s 99 Seat Theatre scene — which is threatened by AEA — learn more at http://ilove99.org). As for the Pasadena Playhouse, we haven’t much liked Sheldon’s programming — and especially the TBA slot. Still, we’re planning on one show this season there. So let’s see what they are proposing:

  • Thumbs Down Real Women Have Curves. Written by Josefina López. Directed by Seema Sueko. September 8 – October 4, 2015. This is taking a movie and moving it onstage. This can work (and draw audiences), but isn’t that particularly exciting to me… especially as a straightforward drama.
  • Thumbs Down Breaking Through. Book by Kirsten Guenther. Music and Lyrics by Cliff Downs and Katie Kahanovitz. Directed by Sheldon Epps. October 27 – November 22, 2015.  A new musical from a team that hasn’t done musicals before. That may or may not be bad — sometimes it works, sometimes it fails miserably. The story is about a young, talented singer/songwriter, as she tries to navigate the treacherous shark-­‐filled waters of the music business with a a compelling journey to find her way back to her authentic self and in the process rediscovers the music that truly makes her alive. Isn’t that Beautiful or any of a myriad of other shows? Not a compelling story.
  • Thumbs Down Peter Pan and Tinkerbell: A Pirate Christmas. By Kris Lythgoe. Directed by Bonnie Lythgoe. Musical Direction by Michael Orland. Choreography by Spencer Liff. December 9, 2015– January 3, 2016. British Christmas Panto. I’m sorry, but I’m generally not into Christmas-specific shows.
  • thumbs-side Fly. By Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. Directed by Ricardo Khan. Produced in Association with Crossroads Theatre Company. January 26 – February 21, 2016. Fly tells the story of the first African-­‐ American Army Air Corp fighters known as the Tuskegee Airmen who flew over the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II. Sigh. This is one of Sheldon’s shows designed to bring in an audience of color. I used to see these every year, and was disappointed that the audience didn’t remain around for other shows (or that the white audience disappeared for these shows). Potentially interesting, but not a must-see. All depends on what else is out around then.
  • Thumbs Up Casa Valentina. By Harvey Fierstein. Directed by David Lee. March 15 – April 10, 2016. Per the description: this moving and insightful play is nestled in the Catskills in 1962 -­‐ land of dirty dancing and borscht belt comedy.  But an inconspicuous bungalow colony is more than a place to escape the sweltering summer heat.  For a group of heterosexual men it is a place to escape something else entirely: being men. Interesting for the director and the playwright. Not sure that it draws me in fully, but this might be good.
  • thumbs-side ARTISTIC DIRECTOR’S CHOICE. To Be Announced. May 31 – June 26, 2015. Otherwise known as the Sheldon CYA slot. I’m not going to commit myself if he can’t.

Not a season that excites me.

***

Theatricum Botanicum

We’re not subscribers here, but we tend to see a show here and there, if it is interesting. As Theatricum Botanicum (FB) wrote:

The upcoming ‘Americana’ season includes William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, re-set in the Reconstruction-era South with live music of the period; To Kill A Mockingbird, Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel; August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’ biting portrait of the dysfunctional American family at its finest — and absolute worst; and Green Grow the Lilacs, the play by Lynn Riggs that inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. Finally, what could be more American than an outing to experience Theatricum’s signature production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, back for the ninth year in a row by popular demand? Audiences flock to this annual family favorite, a beguiling romantic comedy set in Theatricum’s own Topanga forest.

These all run in repertory through the summer. My thoughts:

  • Thumbs Up As You Like It. Seen a number of adaptations of this, including a disasterous one at the Pasadena Playhouse (the only show I’ve walked out on). The era and setting of this sound interesting.
  • Thumbs Down To Kill a Mockingbird. Great play, but I just saw it within the last couple of years at Repertory East. Given how crowded the summer is, I’m not sure it is worth squeezing in.
  • Thumbs Up August: Osage County. A classic play, worth seeing if I can squeeze it in.
  • Thumbs Up Green Grow the Lilacs. This is one I’d really like to see — the basis for Oklahoma. I’ve always heard about it.
  • Thumbs Down A Midsummers Night Dream. This one will be around again, so I’ll skip this time.

They only have seasons subscriptions up, so I’ll either have to remember to put HOLD dates or watch Goldstar.

Only The Organized Have a Voice

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Apr 01, 2015 @ 4:52 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsIf you’ve been following this blog over the last few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been very active and very vocal in the fight with AEA about the rules governing 99 Seat Theatre in Los Angeles. I’ve been championing the value of Los Angeles’ 99 seat theatres, and how they cannot operate on the minimum wage model AEA proposes. In doing so, I’ve been indicating that theatre depends on a triad to stand: the “producers”, who find the funding, facilities, and provide the oversight; the “creatives”, who are the actors and designers that bring the production to life on the stage; and the audience, who is there to receive and appreciate the performance. In fact, I’ve argued that without the audience, there would be no theatre; actors would be like bloggers, shouting into the wind unsure whether anyone is out there.

Yet as I’ve watched the discussion fly by, the audience has yet again been forgotten. AEA thinks producers can just raise prices to provide higher wages; the audience will always be there to pay. Those organizing the rallies and marches have gotten many groups to sign on: the Producers League, the Dramatists Guild, writers, stage managers, designers. But where is the audience in all of this? Other than me, the audience’s voice has been relatively silent.  Even when the pro99 forces talk about bringing groups together to work towards change, the audience does not have the ability to be a formal stakeholder, as it has no representation.

I say no more.

I say it is time for those of us in the audience to united and organize, to have our voice heard. I have decided that the audience needs a singular voice — a union (if you will) — to represent it and to ensure that the needs of the audience are met. I announce today the formation of a new group, the League of Audiences, Fans, and Others Organized for Los-Angeles-Theatre.

The goals of Audiences, Fans, and Others are simple:

  • To ensure that audiences are represented in upcoming talks on the replacement for the 99 seat plan. Change is coming to the 99 seat plan, either through a “no” vote, or by AEA listening. These changes must not be unilateral; the audience must be part of the negotiations.
  • To ensure that audiences have a safe and comfortable performance environment. AEA has the responsibility for actor safety, but who thinks about the audience. I’ve been to shows where the seats were reused from a 1920s theatre, and were so narrow they distracted from the show. I’ve been in theatres where the seats fall apart when you stand up. Audiences need seats of a minimum comfortable width, that are checked so they do not fail. Audiences also need adequate restroom facilities. Audiences need safe parking areas.
  • To ensure that audiences can afford theatre in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is not New York (thankfully). We don’t have the tourist dollar that can pay premium prices for tickets. We have an audience that is used to affordable tickets (often due to discounting programs). We want to ensure that at least 10-20% of all tickets are available at a reasonable discount price, for every show. Additionally, parking for shows needs to be both available and affordable.
  • To ensure a growing audience. When you go to many theatres, the audiences are all old and white. That must change. Audiences, Fans, and Others will design a program of audience outreach, encouraging new patrons to try and discover theatre in Los Angeles. Los Angeles’ 99 seat theatre is uniquely affordable, and we believe that if you get audiences hooked on live theatre in the 99 seat theatres, they will move up to the mid-size and larger theatres. We believe Los Angeles audiences are smart and want more than endless tours of “Wicked” or productions of “The Sound of Music”.

To fund Audiences, Fans, and Others activities, we will ask all theatres to contribute a small amount from each ticket. Probationary members will be accepted, with modest dues, with proof of attendance of at least 14 professional theatre productions (comedy clubs do not count) in Los Angeles over a 12 month period. Amateur audiences should stick to community theatre, school-based theatre, and productions at the Pantages.

I ask you, other audience members, to help me further our goal of organizing the audiences, and to spread the word.

***

Pro99 - Vote No NowOh, and if you by chance aren’t an audience member… you’re one of those people up on stage…  If you are an actor and a member of AEA, then by now you should have received your ballot. Actors, Fans, and Others encourages you to mark you ballot “No” and return it to Election Services forthwith (that is, promptly). We need to fight for Los Angeles’ unique theatre ecosystem and encourage that it lives, so that we, the audience members, have a wide variety of places to see you, the actors, giving your all for something other than minimum wage on stage. We thank you for your sacrifice.

California Highway Headlines for March 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 31, 2015 @ 11:13 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingIt’s March. March was a month where we skip the pointless introductions, because it can’t decide if it is officially spring or summer. Here are the headlines:

  • How Montague Expressway got its name. Dan-the-County-Roads-Man does and says “thanks for the history question! I love those.” Expressways were most often named for the older roads they were built over…
  • Caltrans and San Mateo address dangerous merge: State Route 92 and El Camino Real interchange project moves ahead . Plans to alleviate the dangers of one of the Bay Area’s most hazardous highway intersections are well underway as the city of San Mateo and Caltrans work to remodel the State Route 92 and El Camino Real interchange. The current full cloverleaf layout was designed more than 50 years ago and provides short weaving distances where drivers must compete to exit and enter the freeway. The configuration also forces drivers to merge onto El Camino Real with wait times frequently causing cars to back up the length of the ramp and spill over onto State Route 92.
  • 118, Somis Road construction gets start date . For those who commute along a dangerous and outdated portion of Highway 118 that cuts through Somis, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Although the drive will get worse before it gets better, the intersection of the 118 and Somis Road is scheduled for an overhaul in May to improve the traffic flow and create a fourway stop. Construction at the intersection is expected to take eight months, at a cost of about $2.5 million.
  • $1.1 Billion and Five Years Later, the 405 Congestion Relief Project Is a Fail. This past May the project known as the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvement Project came to official completion, with resulting new on-ramps and off-ramps, bridges and a northbound 405 carpool lane stretching 10 miles between the 10 and 101 Freeways. The four-turned–five-year, $1.1 billion project became a long-running nightmare of sudden ramp closures, poorly advertised by Metro and made all the worse by baffling detours that led drivers into the unfamiliar Bel Air Hills and Sherman Oaks hills, dead ends and unlit canyons.
  • Report: Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions. Any major modifications to the unfinished 710 Freeway, one of Los Angeles County’s most persistent transportation controversies, would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete, according to environmental documents released Friday. In a 2,260-page draft environmental report, the California Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority examined four construction options they say could address the congestion and health issues that stem from the 710’s abrupt ending on a surface street in Alhambra. The freeway is a favored route for truckers shuttling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in central Los Angeles County.
  • $200-million Orange County tollway project stalls . A $200-million tollway project in Orange County suffered another defeat this week as water quality regulators refused to issue a waste discharge permit that was needed before construction can begin on the controversial project. In a unanimous vote, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board on Monday declined to issue the permit to the Transportation Corridor Agencies, the operator of 51 miles of toll roads in Orange County.
  • VTA: Plans in works to extend express lanes on 237. The Valley Transportation Authority is finalizing its plan to add express lanes on State Route 237 from North First Street in San Jose to Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale. VTA held a public meeting March 3 to inform residents about phase 2 of the plan, which is set to be completed in late 2016.
  • State Route 282 Relinquishment Under Consideration by Caltrans. TAF was informed on March 19, 2015, that “Caltrans is preparing a feasibility report to assess the potential to relinquish State Route 282 (SR-282) to the city of Coronado.” SR-282 is the portion of Third and Fourth Streets that runs from Orange Avenue to Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI). This includes the portion of Alameda Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets. This is the Avenue of Heroes neighborhood loop. The process of “relinquishment is the removal of a State highway, either in whole or in part from the State Highway System (SHS),” and a contractual turning it over to another jurisdiction. In the case of SR-282 this would be the city of Coronado. (1)
  • Historic Point Reyes bridge to be replaced, Caltrans says. The 86-year-old bridge that leading to Point Reyes Station will be demolished and replaced in what will be at least a seven-year process involving public input, lengthy environmental review and years of construction that will necessitate a temporary one-lane bridge across Lagunitas Creek. Public scoping for a replacement kicked off last Thursday at a poster-filled open house, hosted by the local district of the California Department of Transportation at West Marin School. Comments will be accepted through April 20.
  • 2 options considered for reconstructing part of congested 710 Freeway. During most workdays, trucks hauling cargo containers dominate the two right lanes in each direction of the 710 Freeway, a vital trade corridor for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest combined harbor in the United States. The worst congestion occurs at rush hour when big rigs line up nose to tail, forming a wall of vehicles that extends for miles in each direction. Traffic in all lanes slows to a crawl, and motorists back up at the short offramps built in the 1950s.
  • The torture that is the I-680 evening commute. I’ve noticed that small wooden stakes with spray-paint markings have been pounded into the dirt on the right shoulder of northbound Interstate 680 in the Fremont area. Could that have anything to do with widening 680 and adding more lanes? It would be an answer to my prayers! The afternoon commute out of Silicon Valley is horrible, which is why I have such a vested interest in seeing those little stakes in the ground.
  • Major I-215/Newport Road project about to begin. Menifee residents are approaching the impending construction of the I-215/Newport Road intersection with equal measures of anticipation and dread. Anticipation for a remedy to the gridlock and frustration drivers experience getting on and off the freeway there. Dread because it will require more gridlock and frustration over the next 18 to 24 months.
  • New Lost Hills bridge a ‘safe’ alternative. When it’s completed in about two years, the new Lost Hills bridge will have five traffic lanes, two bike paths and a sidewalk, making the passage across the 101 Freeway safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The Lost Hills interchange is a main access point for drivers traveling to western Calabasas and Malibu. The bridge carries almost 30,000 vehicles each day and is considered too small for the high demand.
  • Freeway ramp facelift delayed . Beautification plans for the First Street interchange have been pushed back at the request of the Simi Valley City Council. The proposed $822,500 interchange facelift includes planting low-maintenance, drought tolerant plants and trees on the site, said Ron Fuchiwaki, Simi Valley’s director of public works. The proposal also includes an additional $252,000 worth of maintenance and upkeep for the next seven years.
  • Somis Road intersection to be redesigned. Ventura County Public Works Agency’s Department of Transportation will move forward as early as May to construct a realignment of the Donlon Road and Highway 118 intersection to line up with Somis Road (Highway 34). The purpose of the project is to improve safety at the intersection by eliminating the offset between Donlon and Somis roads. Construction will take about eight months. Shoulder widening along Highway 118 will occur at night to minimize disruption to traffic.
  • The Panhandle Freeway and the Revolt That Saved the Park. Early this year, fresh talk of building a second BART tube to connect northwest San Francisco with the rest of the system garnered attention. But you can find other grand transit visions going back a century or more, many of which could have drastically changed the landscape of the city. From the 1910s through the 1960s, the thinking mostly involved building highways and freeways for cars, such as the “Divisional Highway” plan of the 1920s that would have gone through the Castro and up Divisadero to the Golden Gate.
  • MTA’s toll-lane project may be a victim of its own success. The conversion of the 110 Freeway’s carpool lanes into toll lanes was not without bumps: Some Angelenos feared that adding tolls to the Los Angeles County freeway network would further divide rich and poor commuters. Others groused that freeways should be free. But two years later, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority project is on the cusp of becoming a victim of its own success: So many drivers now steer into the Harbor Freeway’s northbound toll lanes to escape morning traffic jams that the paid route is slowing down too. Over the course of a year, even as the per-mile toll crept toward the maximum, traffic in the paid lanes increased by almost 20% and speeds began to slow, officials say.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesTheatre and highways: a lovely pair. From the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood to the Route 66 Theatre in Chicago; from classic stories about the road such as “The Grapes of Wrath” (which takes place along Route 66 and off Route 99) to more modern parodies such as “CHiP: The Musical” (which played the Falcon — itself near Route 134 — a few years ago). Here in Los Angeles there are loads of small theatres directly on or near streets that used to be state highways: From REP East, on former Route 126; the large cluster of theatres along Lankersheim Blvd (the former state route that became Route 170); the Odyssey Theatre complex along former Route 7 (what become I-405) in West LA; to the theatre district along Santa Monica Blvd (former Route 2 and US 66) in Hollywood. These are all 99 seat and under theatres, and they are theatres whose existence is threatened by a proposal from AEA. This proposal would require these theatres to pay their actors minimum wage for rehearsals and performances, raising their costs overnight at least 10 fold — or more, depending on the number of AEA actors. On the surface, the union is doing this to protect “the dignity of actors” (even though the actors in Los Angeles do not want it, and being paid minimum wage when other venues pay much more is an odd definition of “dignity”); underneath, the real reason may be buried in the small print: if the theatre treats the actor as employee and there is an AEA contract, the AEA gets paid its fees first (whereas it gets little now). The larger community — from actors to producers to stage managers to creatives to audiences are saying, collectively, “Change is needed, but not this change.” We want to rework how intimate theatre is done, but not with this heavy handed solution forced from non-Californians. Learn more about the controversy at the I Love 99 website, and follow their Facebook group and Twitter feed.  If you are an AEA member, vote “No” (and tell your friends). If you are not, spread the word.

Finding Out Where The Real Power Lies

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 29, 2015 @ 12:20 pm PDT

Newsies (Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaYesterday, Playbill published an interesting article on 8 theatre podcasts you should be listening to. Through this article I discovered a new favorite podcast, The Ensemblist (FB), which explores the life and importance of the ensemble. This is one thing I was thinking about last night when I saw the touring production of “Disney’s Newies (FB), now at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre (FB). This was because the real star of Newsies was not the lead performers (although they were great) — it was the Newsies themselves and their supporting ensemble. More on that in a moment.

Before I get into the story of Newsies, I must tell you that I suffer from this weird conceit: I believe every story starts on the stage and then moves to the screen. Thus, I believe William Shakespeare wrote Pulp Fiction, and the lost play was discovered and made into the movie. I similarly believe that Newsies started as a successful musical, and then someone time-travelled back and made the poorly received movie musical version. This makes a lot of sense, given that many successful musicals do not translate well to the screen.

Newsies tells the story of the historical newsboys strike of 1899. One might think that a strike over a hundred years ago has no relevance today, but I saw direct parallels between the strike story in Newsies and the current battle between LA actors and Actors Equity. The notion of a mass of people standing up for their rights against an authority who is imposing work rule changes that could destroy what gives them life — that’s a common epic story that resonates with many. The trick is to tell that story in a way that conveys the power of the masses, without becoming sappy or syrupy.

The stage version of Newsies (book by Harvey Fierstein (FB), based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (FB); music by Alan Menken (FB); lyrics by Jack Feldman [utilizing many of the movies’ songs, but surprisingly not crediting J.A.C. Redford, who was credited with the movie’s music]) does that reasonably well. You can find the full synopsis on Wikipedia, but in short:  Jack Kelly is a “newsie” — a boy who earns a living selling papers in the street for a major New York newspaper at the turn of the 20th century. He longs to escape New York where he is a cog that is ground down, and move to Santa Fe NM where he can be a big man in a small town. But before he can do so, he must sell papes (newspapers) to earn money. We learn how he does so in the opening; we also meet two new “newsies”: Davey and his younger brother Les. They became newsies to support their family, after their father’s leg was mangled in an industrial accident and he was fired. These boys are newsies for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, which is seeing a drop in circulation. Pulitzer summarily decides to raise the price of the papers he sells to the newsies from 50¢/100 to 60¢/100; he figures the boys will sell more papers to make the same amount of money, thus increasing his circulation.  In response to this, however, the Newsies decide to form a union and go on strike. Their effort is publicized by Katherine Plumber, a reporter Jack meets while hiding out at a theatre owned by his friend, Mella Larkin. When the boys attempt to blockade the newspaper distribution carts and prevent scabs from delivering the papers, a melee ensues between the scabs, the boys, Pulitzer’s goons (Morris and Oscar Delancy), and the police. Many boys are injured, and Jack’s friend, Crutchy, is taken to “The Refugees”, a boys prison from which Jack escaped, run by the evil Snyder. Jack just wants to give up and run away to Santa Fe, but Davey and Les convince him to go back an organize a rally to organize the Newsies in all the boroughs. When Jack goes to invite Pulitzer to present his side at the rally, he discovers (a) that Katherine is Pulitzer’s daughter, and (b) Pulitzer wants to neutralize Jack, either by paying his way to Santa Fe, or putting him in jail in the Refuge. Katherine convinces Jack that the way to win is to get all the children in New York to go on strike. They sneak into the World, print a screen written by Katherine, and do so. This works, Pulizter partially caves (they compromise on the price, and Pulitzer agrees to buy back unsold papers), and Jack ends up winning the girl. Close curtain.

I’ll note that when they traveled back in time to make this into a movie, they made some changes that impacted the story. The reporter was male and unrelated to the publisher, and Kelly’s love interest was Davey’s sister. They changed the race of Medda Larkin, and reworked the timing of the story. It didn’t work. They should have stuck with the original musical 😉 .

This is clearly a story designed to tug at the heart: you’ve got a ragtag team of good children fighting the big bad boss. The music is energetic and uplifting — on the verge of marches — that just pulls at you. There is the occasional ballad and “I want” song, but nothing overly sappy. About the biggest problem the story has is its predictability. The biggest problem the music has is that it is stretched — we keep hearing the same themes and melodies over and over. Having heard the movie soundtrack, this was a problem there as well. Reading the history, it is worth noting that this was intended as a limited run and not a Broadway hit (clearly designed as a musical for the school market), and its audience success propelled it to a two-year run on Broadway.  My wife’s comment about the music was that she kept hearing melodies and underscores that were reminiscent of Aladdin, another Disney musical that was written by the same composer and released the same year as Newsies. I didn’t notice those undertones, but they didn’t surprise me as that is common with composers.

What makes Newsies overcome any weaknesses in the book or the score are the Newsies and the rest of the dancing ensemble. As directed by Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli (FB), many of the major rousing numbers are full-on energetic dance numbers, and they just “wow” you out of your seats. This is why I truly believe that the Newsies and ensemble are the true stars of this show — when you walk out of this show, it is their performances you principally remember. This team, some of whom I’ll individually highlight later, consisted of: Dan DeLuca (FB) (Jack Kelly), Stephanie Styles (FB) (Katherine), Jacob Kemp (FB) (Davey), Zachary Sayle (FB) (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal (Les at our performance), Evan Autio (FB) (Scab, Ensemble), Josh Assor (FB) (Ensemble), Joshua Burrage (FB) (Darcy, Ensemble), Benjamin Cook (FB) (Race, Ensemble), DeMarius R. Copes (FB) (Henry, Ensemble), Julian DeGuzman (FB) (Finch, Ensemble), Nico DeJesus (FB) (Romeo, Ensemble), Sky Flaherty (FB) (Albert, Scab, Ensemble), Jeff Heimbrock (FB) (Elmer, Spot Conlon, Ensemble), Jordan Samuels (FB) (Specs, Ensemble), Jack Sippel (FB) (Mush, Ensemble), and Chaz Wolcott (FB) (Scab, Ensemble).  Their dancing was just truly spectacular. However, that wasn’t everything. These young performers were just radiating a joy at performing that was contagious — they were having so much fun doing this show that the audience picked it up and a feedback loop occurred, amplifying the effect for all. This is truly a show where the ensemble is the real star.

In the lead individual performance positions are Dan DeLuca (FB) (Jack Kelly) and Stephanie Styles (FB) (Katherine). DeLuca is a wonderful dancer and an engaging performer; he broadcasted a believability that was just great. In addition to the ensemble numbers, he was wonderful in his solo numbers, such as “Santa Fe”. As for Styles, ahhhh … I was smitten. Styles had a beautiful and expressive face, danced wonderfully, and was spectacular in both her solo and duet numbers. This is an actor who I hope I see more of — there’s something about her personality and joy of performing that just comes through. I’ve seen a few actresses like that, and they rapidly become favorites.

In supporting performances on the Newsies side were Jacob Kemp (FB) (Davey), Anthony Rosenthal (Les at our performance; he alternates with Vincent Crocilla (FB)), and Zachary Sayle (FB) (Crutchie). Kemp and Rosenthal gave believable performances, and Rosenthal wowed the crowed with his cuteness. As with the rest of the ensemble, all sang and danced well. Sayles was particularly touching in his solo number.

This show wasn’t all kids. In the lead supporting “adult” performer positions were Kevin Carolan (FB) (Joseph Pulitzer) [at this performance; the role is normally played by Steve Blanchard (FB)] and Angela Grovey (FB) (Medda Larkin). Carolan is in just a few scenes, but he does a great job in all of them conveying the appropriate bluff, bluster, and position of the great Joseph Pulitzer. He does well in his one song, “The Bottom Line”, and its reprise. Grovey really only has one spotlight performance — her song “That’s Rich” is an eleven o’clock number done at nine o’clock — a true showstopper, great performance. She reappears briefly for some scenes in act II, but you remember her for “That’s Rich”. Luckily, she nails it :-).

Rounding out the named performers were the assistants to Joseph Pulitzer [Mark Aldrich (FB) (Seitz, Ensemble), Bill Bateman (Bunsen, Stage Manager, Ensemble), and Melissa Steadman Hart (FB) (Nun, Hannah) [at our performance, normally Meredith Inglesby (FB)†]], Pulitzer’s goons and employees [Michael Ryan (FB) (Morris Delancey), Jon Hacker (FB) (Oscar Delancey), Michael Gorman (FB) (Wiesel, Mr. Jacobi, Mayor)], the bad guy Snyder [James Judy (FB)], and the others [Eric Jon Mahlum (FB) (Governor Roosevelt) [normally Kevin Carolan (FB)], Molly Jobe (FB) (Nun, Citizen of New York)]. Swings not previously mentioned were Stephen Hernandez (FB) and Andrew Wilson (FB). All seemed to be enjoying what they were doing and had great performances.
[†: Inglesby’s Facebook page explains why both she and Steve Blanchard were out and we had the swing shuffle — she’s married to Blanchard, and for some reason were away for that performance]

Rounding out the music and dance credits. Of the aforementioned actors, Andrew Wilson (FB) was the dance captain; Josh Assor (FB) was his assistant, and Kevin Carolan (FB) was the fight captain. Lou Castro was the associate choreographer. On the music side, Michael Kosarin (FB) was the music supervisor and arranger, Danny Troob (FB) did orchestrations, Mark Hummel did the dance music, John Miller was the music coordinator, and James Dodgson was the music director and conductor. The orchestra, as just noted, was conducted by James Dodgson. Faith Seetoo (FB) was the associate conductor, and Chip Prince (FB) was the assistant conductor. Orchestra members consisted of [T = Touring; L = Local]: Paul Baron (FB) [T] (Trumpet/Flugel); Joe Wallace (FB) [T] (Bass); Heinrich Kruse  (FB) [T] (Drums); Faith Seetoo (FB), Chip Prince (FB) [T] (Keyboards); Jeff Marder (FB) [T] (Electronic Music); Kathleen Robertson [L] (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach [L] (Cello); Dick Mitchell [L] (Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax); Wayne Bergeron [L] (Trumpet); Andy Martin [L] (Trombone, Bass Trombone); Paul Viapiano [L] (Guitar); Wade Culbreath [L] (Percussion); David Witham [L] (Keyboard Sub). The orchestra had a truly full sound; something that I miss in these days of small bands masquerading as orchestras.

Turning to the technical side of the story: The scenic design was by Tobin Ost (FB), and was relatively simple in its complexity. There were a large number of projection screens to provide the location (original Broadway projection design by Sven Ortel, adapted by Daniel Brodie); there were a few actual sets for places like Pulitzer’s office. The rest consisted of large metal multilevel structures sized to fit into a touring semi that were turned and rotated to provide all the other locations. Very, very clever. The sound design by Ken Travis and the lighting by Jeff Croiter worked reasonably well. For the most part, the sound was some of the best I’ve heard in the Pantages, and the lighting created the mood. There were a few local problems — the occasional sound drop, the occasional spot operator who couldn’t find the actor. Costume Design was by Jess Goldstein, with hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. All were affective and appeared reasonably period. Fight direction was by J. Allen Suddeth. Remaining company credits: Telsey+Company (Casting); Ann Quart (Associate Producer); Geoffrey Quart (Technical Supervisor); Christopher A. Recker (General Manager); Jeff Norman (Production Stage Manager); Richard J. Hinds (Associate Director).

Disney’s Newsies continues at the Hollywood Pantages until April 19. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office and Ticketmaster. There is a day of show lottery for $20 tickets. There are some tickets available on Goldstar. The show is quite enjoyable and well worth seeing. It’s not a deep thought show, but it is a very fun show.

The Pantages Theatre has announced their next season. In a previous post I discussed my thoughts on the upcoming Pantages season.

Pro99 - Vote No NowI Love 99. Walking out of Newsies, I received an email from the Pantages asking what I thought of the show. I thought of replying that I was impressed that the Pantages put on a show than encapsulated the AEA/pro99 fight so well, and seemed to support the pro99 side. I mean, look at what the Pantages put on: Joseph Pulitzer, in order to bring in more money, arbitrarily attempted to impose a price hike of what he charged the newsies. This is just like AEA attempting to impose minimum wage on the 99 seat theatres in Los Angeles. In both cases, the imposed prices was unsustainable and threatened the livelihood of the Newsies/99 seat theatres. So what did the Newsies/99 Seat Theatre supporters do? They banded together to protest the hike. They demonstrated to the city the value of their work and their product. The Newsies did this by getting the children to strike; pro99 has done that by getting elements of all stakeholders — actors, designers, producers, audiences, stage managers, critics — to band together to let the world know about the vital role of intimate theatre to the overall theatrical ecosystem. Reporters — such as Katherine Plumber/Pulitzer — or our own Colin Mitchell of Bitter Lemons — have done a yeomans job of spreading the word. In the musical Newsies, Pulitzer didn’t win, but the status quo wasn’t retained either — a compromise was reached that benefited all stakeholders. The price went up slightly, but unsold papers could be sold back. In the real world, that’s all we’re asking for. Vote down this arbitrary AEA proposal, and let the stakeholders on all sides work up a compromise that serves all interests — a compromise that lets intimate theatres that can grow; that lets intimate theaters that are lucky enough to have sufficient grants, donations, and ticket income to pay the actors something closer to what they are worth (and they are worth much more than minimum wage); that lets those actors that want to provide pro-bono or below market professional services; that ensures safe working conditions for both union and non-union actors.

So, what should you do. If you are an AEA actor, vote no. If you are a stakeholder in Los Angeles theatre, visit www.ilove99.org to learn more about what is happening. Then go see Newsies at the Pantages — and watch the story and see the parallels to the 99 Seat Theatre fight (and know you are watching a very talented troup of AEA actors, for this is an Equity tour). If you can’t afford that, go to any of the excellent 99 seat theatres throughout Los Angeles and support your local actors. By the way, if you are an audience member, keep an eye on this blog for a special announcement in just a couple of days.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: April starts with a highly recommended show at a local 99 seat theatre: Trevor at the Atwater Village Theatre (FB), starring Laurie Metcalf, on the 2nd night of Passover. The following weekend has a different form of theatre: the Renaissance Faire on April 11 (just wait until AEA tries to unionize that — the Queen will be livid!). The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely, possibly Don Rickles at the Orleans, and Penn & Teller are on Goldstar. May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB), “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB), and “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which should include a production of “Marry Me a Little” by Good People Theatre (FB)), a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawksour annual drum corps show, and hopefully “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.