Observations Along the Road

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

An Outdoor Love Fest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 02, 2014 @ 8:58 am PDT

Hair (Hollywood Bowl)userpic=theatre_ticketsFull frontal nudity, on stage, at the Hollywood Bowl. Who would’ve thunk it? But it was there, and even more amazingly, tweets of the momentous occasion aren’t easy to find. Perhaps I should backup and explain.

Last night, we went to see the musical “Hair” at the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl does one musical every summer — sometimes we go (“Guys and Dolls” in 2009); usually we don’t. The 18,000 seat Bowl isn’t the best venue for musicals done with primarily Hollywood actors — the stage is too far away from the affordable seats, and you often end up watching the big screens instead of the stage. But “Hair” is one of my favorite musicals — we saw the Reprise production at the Wadsworth back in 2001; and the excellent CSUN production back in 2006. Further, with “Hair”, every production is a little different — in the original days, the show was constantly shifting, with songs moving between characters, and songs coming in and out. Whether that is still happening I don’t know; I do know there were songs in the show last night that I don’t recall hearing before, and plot nuances I hadn’t noticed. In any case, I had been thinking about getting tickets to “Hair” at the Bowl but hadn’t made it to the box office. Then they showed up on Goldstar. Sold.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room — my opening line. There was, for the first time ever, nudity at the Hollywood Bowl. Unlike the earlier productions I’ve seen (especially the one at the Reprise), none of the leading performers joined in the nude scene. The reason why is interesting, and it demonstrates how much times have changed since the 1960s. The leads — Kristen Bell, Hunter Parrish, and the folks from Glee — didn’t join in thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones and the fact that had they joined in, the pictures would be all over the Internet the next morning (and hence my comment about Twitter above — I was curious if the predicted phenomenon had indeed materialized… but I could find no evidence). One wonders if stage nudity by name actors will be killed by the cell phone and people quick to post the photos. In any case, most of the ensemble did participate in the nude scene (which occurs at the end of Act I — when the parachute comes out, be ready), and I applaud them for their courage to keep it in and stay true to the story.

So what is the story of “Hair”? If you try to figure it out from the cast albums, you’ll have trouble — the songs express emotion much more than telling the story. From the movie? Excuse me while I laugh, for my recollection is that the movie butchered the plot and the order of things. Here was how I wrote things back in 2006:

Hair is a rough musical. The basic plot is the story of Claude, who just had his induction physical for the Vietnam draft, and is about to go into the Army. The first half, however, is more getting to know the tribe and their relationships; the second half (which was extremely powerful) is a hallucination about the war. Along the way there is love, some nudity (although quite tastefully done), more love, war protests, drugs, more love, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, more love, some starshine, and a wild trip. For those unfamiliar with the 1960s (alas, I was the next generation), this recreates it.

Last night there seemed to be more to the story. Looking at the Wikipedia synopsis, however, it appears the details of the story have always been there and I just didn’t remember. As that synopsis is long and detailed, I think I’ll just let you read it yourself. I’ll wait while you do. Of course, it doesn’t matter much. “Hair”, at this point, is such an established musical that the story is what the story is. I’ll just note that book and lyrics are by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, and the music is by Galt MacDermot, and that Galt MacDermot did the music for my favorite show of all time — the New York Shakespeare Festival version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona“. I’ll also note that some of the numbers described in the synopsis (such as “The Bed”, which I happen to like, and “Hippie Life”, an addition from the movie for the revival) appear to have been cut, and there were other numbers present that don’t appear in any listing of songs of which I’m aware.

With restagings such as this production, the real question is how well did the director (in this case, Adam Shankman, who also served as choreographer) interpret the work, and how well did the cast do. Let’s start with the director, for the Hollywood Bowl is an odd beast when it comes to staging Broadway musicals. There’s no fly space; the orchestra is on the stage; the stage is gigantic; most people cannot see the stage; and there are all these ramps that can be used. I’m pleased to say that Shankman used the space well. His Hollywood background permitted him to use the big screens to his advantage to showcase the cast to the people in the back; the ramps allowed the tribe to go out into the audience area and make it a love in. There were scaffolds and such on the side of the set with various places that the ensemble seemed to go to at points, but that didn’t seem too connected with the show. Most importantly, he took advantage of his large ensemble to cover the space well; and when he wanted to narrow the focus, he used lighting very effectively to close the apeture to just what he wanted the audience to see. I was pleased.

As for the cast, I was very very very surprised and pleased. The Bowl often does stunt casting for these shows, and initially the casting of Kristen Bell as Sheila seemed to be just that. I mean, we knew she could sing from her work on Frozen, but she’s not known for her Broadway work. I’m pleased to say that Bell nailed it. Watching her during “Easy to be Hard” — her voice, her face, her emotion — was just amazing. She was also equally strong in “Good Morning, Starshine”. I did notice, however, that she seemed to disappear from the stage quite often.

Also strong were the other female leads — Sarah Hyland as Crissy and Jenna Ushkowitz as Jeanie. Both were wonderful in one of my favorite numbers, “Air”. Hyland did a great job with her solo in “Frank Mills”. As with Bell, Shankman used the big screens at the Bowl to his advantage with these two — even though you were far away, you were able to watch the great facial expressions and acting. I was impressed.

Lastly, attention must be paid to Amber Riley as Dionne. Although her character isn’t really established in the story, she gets some of the choicest solos — such as the opening number (“Aquarius”) and the solos in a few others. This gal has some great pipes, and did just wonderfully on her songs.

Turning to the male leads. The man around whom the story of Hair is centered is Claude, played by Hunter Parrish. Most folks know Parrish from Weeds, but he did a great stage turn in the recent revival of “Godspell” in New York and he continued with that power here. He had good chemistry with all the actors and a great singing voice. A lot of fun to watch, although I do wish they had tossed in a throwaway line about Agrestic. As Berger, Benjamin Walker exhibited the same power and charisma that he had ages ago when we saw him in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” back in 2008. Again, strong singing, strong acting, and loads of charisma and fun. Rounding out the lead male characters were Jonah Platt as Woof and Mario as Hud. Both gave great performances; Mario especially so in numbers such as “I’m Black”.

The two adults in the show, Kevin Chamberlin as Claude’s Dad (and Margaret Mead) and Beverly D’Angelo as Claude’s Mom, handled their roles well. Chamberlin was particularly good in “My Conviction”.

As for the rest of the tribe — we never learn their names, so it hard to cite who did what. There were a few that had solos in Act II (during “Three-Five-Zero-Zero”) or in the hallucination sequence that were just spectacular. Others had looks and moved so well you couldn’t keep your eyes off of them (there was one slightly larger actress in overalls who was just great). As noted earlier, I applaud those who chose to do the nude scene — that takes courage (and I especially applaud the women who did the scene who didn’t follow the current trends). Most importantly about the tribe — they were just having fun, and that fun was radiating out from them. They had an inner joy at doing this show and doing this music and carrying this message, and it spread out to the back of the bowl. The remainder of the tribe consisted of Amanda Balen (FB), Carly Bracco (FB), Jennifer Foster (FB), Taylor Frey, Courtney Galiano (FB), Nkrumah Gatling (FB), Rhett George (FB), Kyle Hill, Jeremy Hudson (FB), Joanna Alexis Jones/FB, Adrianna Rose Lyons (FB, FB), Yani Marin (FB), Kimberly Moore, Maurice Murphy (FB), Jane Papageorge (FB), Louis Pardo (FB), Matthew Peacock, Corbin Reid (FB), Johnny Rice/FB, Haylee Roderick (FB), Cailan Rose (FB), Constantine Rousouli (FB), Rustin Cole Sailors (FB), Hanna-Lee Sakakibara, and Isaac Tualaulelei (FB).

As for the musical side of things: The on-stage orchestra, which was in appropriate period dress, was conducted by Lon Hoyt, who served as musical director. It consisted of Dick Mitchell (baritone sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo), Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), John Fumo (trumpet), Larry Hall (trumpet), Alan Kaplan (trombone), Paul Viapiano (guitar), Justin Lees-Smith (guitar), Tery Henry (bass), Pete Maloney (drums), and Brian Kilgore (percussion). They had a great sound.

Turning to the technical and support side. The sound design by Philip G. Allen was, for the most part, excellent; there were, however, a few microphone glitches that were quite noticeable in Act II. The lighting design of Tom Ruzika, which presumably includes the projections as well, was spectacular in creating the mood, focusing attention, and setting the stage with the projections around the perimeter of the bowl. The scenic design of Joe Celli, combined with the props of Kirk Graves, did a reasonable job of establishing place and times, given the constraints of the Hollywood Bowl. The hair, wigs, and makeup of Byron J. Batista (FB), combined with the costume design of Rita Ryack, did an even better job of establishing the time (plus he did a great job of camouflaging Kristen Bell’s baby bump). Michael Donovan was in charge of casting. Zach Woodlee was the associate director and choreographer. Meredith J. Greenburg was the production stage manager, and Michael Scarola and Michael Vitale were assistant stage managers.

Hair” has two more performances at the Hollywood Bowl: tonight at 8pm, and tomorrow at 7:30pm. Visit the Hollywood Bowl for more information.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August continues with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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California Highway Headlines for July 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Aug 01, 2014 @ 6:54 am PDT

userpic=roadgeekingThe heat of summer is upon us. Hopefully, you’re keeping cool while reading these stories about California Highways from July:

  • CalTrans suspends all work on Willits bypass project until permit reinstated. CalTrans halted all work on the Highway 101 bypass around Willits on July 8, according to CalTrans spokesman Phil Frisbie. The work stoppage is a result of the suspension on June 20 of a key environmental permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. CalTrans had been keeping some parts of the project proceeding but on Monday told the contractors to suspend work effective July 8.
  • ​$1.5 billion 5 Freeway expansion begins. Construction begins [in early July] on the $1.8 billion 5 Freeway expansion near Norwalk. Caltrans has released its list of ramp closures and openings for the $1.8 billion project, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports. The expansion, years in the planning, will include a car-pool lane and a general purpose lane from the Los Angeles/Orange County line to the 605 Freeway.
  • Before the 110 Freeway, Figueroa Street Ran Through These Tunnels. Driving through the Figueroa Street Tunnels might be one of L.A.’s most dramatic freeway experiences. As you plunge through the first Art Deco portal, the downtown skyline recedes in your rear-view mirror. A minute later, leaving the last of the four bores, you enter the world of the Arroyo Seco Parkway: sycamore trees, sweeping curves, and arched bridges. The tunnels weren’t always part of the state freeway system. Built between 1930 and 1936 by the city of Los Angeles, they originally carried Figueroa Street through the rugged terrain of Elysian Park. Two lanes traveled in either direction, separated by white double stripes. Pedestrians were welcome, if not expected; a single five-foot sidewalk (since removed) ran alongside the forty-foot wide roadway.
  • Progress on 280-880 interchange in San Jose. Mountains of dirt loom dozens of feet skyward, two huge cranes are positioned where new ramps are being built and dozens of construction workers in lime vests and hard hats scramble like ants from one corner of the new interchange at Interstate 280 and I-880 to the other. The framework for the $62.1 million interchange adjacent to the busy shopping centers at Valley Fair and Santana Row is in place. While work will last until next spring, soon commuters, shoppers and pedestrians will taste some of the new design.
  • Caltrans: I-80 re-striping part of interchange project. Motorists driving on westbound Interstate 80 will likely see reconfigured traffic lanes Thursday morning, as the California Department of Transportation prepares to start work on the I-680/Highway 12 interchange project.
  • Why does Caltrans want to give away the Tower Bridge?. The Tower Bridge is one of the Sacramento region’s most iconic landmarks, so why does Caltrans want to give it away? Currently, Sacramento owns the portion of Capitol Mall that leads to the bridge on the east, and West Sacramento owns the portion of the Tower Bridge Gateway that leads to the bridge on the west. The state only owns the 737-foot bridge.
  • The Forgotten History of L.A.’s Failed Freeway Revolt. Urbanists love to celebrate the victorious campaigns that have been waged against city highways over the years. From the successful crusades against the Lower Manhattan Expressway in New York and Inner Belt in Boston and Cambridge decades ago, to those against the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and Park East Freeway in Milwaukee more recently—the glory gets told and retold, often to good purpose. As other cities consider similar efforts, the tales can both inspire and instruct.
  • Caltrans will put toll lanes on 405 Freeway despite objections. State transportation officials are moving forward with a controversial plan to add toll lanes to a busy stretch of the 405 Freeway in Orange County despite strong opposition from nearby cities who argue the so-called “Lexus lanes” will hurt average commuters. In December, Orange County Transportation Authority board members opted not to support the toll lanes in favor of a plan that would add one free lane in each direction, even though they were warned at the time that state officials may override the decision anyway. On Friday, the California Department of Transportation announced it was doing just that, arguing the toll lanes would offer welcome respite for commuters.
  • Southern California First: Freeway Teardown Project Coming to Long Beach . Funded by a grant from the California Department of Transportation, Long Beach released an RFP for conceptual and design services for a plan to transform the Terminal Island Freeway into a “regional serving greenbelt and local serving road.”
  • State offers Tower Bridge to Sacramento, West Sacramento. The Tower Bridge once was the grand entrance to Sacramento, escorting travelers on State Route 275 to the state Capitol steps. Today, for its owner, the state Department of Transportation, it’s become a bridge to nowhere. Caltrans relinquished the highway on both sides of the bridge to Sacramento and West Sacramento a decade ago, cutting the bridge off from the rest of the state highway system. Its 737-foot span over the Sacramento River is the shortest highway in the state. Caltrans now says it wants to give the vintage 1935 bridge to the two cities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

A Bye-Bye Too Good To Be Bye-Bye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Still to come today is the annual Operaworks improv show. August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

Saturday Stew: Things You See and Things You Don’t

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

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

 

Water’s For Fightin’

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

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

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

So here are some articles on water, with commentary:

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

 

Getting It Right, For Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once” continues at the Pantages Theatre through August 10. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online, although you can avoid service fees and go to the box office directly. Some dates are available through Goldstar.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend brings two shows: “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, followed by the annual Operaworks improv show on 7/27. August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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

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

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