Observations Along the Road

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

How To Succeed … The Other Way 🎩 Gentleman’s Guide (GGLAM) @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 27, 2016 @ 7:03 pm PDT

Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonIn the early 1960’s Frank Loesser classic How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (H2$), the main character, J. Pierpont Finch, works his way to the top of the company by ruthlessly eliminating through unsuspecting tricks those above him on the food chain. It ends on a note of “what’s next?”, after someone suggested that the President better watch out.

Now, transport yourself back to London in 1909. In A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (GGLAM) (FB), currently at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), we have a similar story: Monty Navarro, an outcast cousin of the wealthy and famous D’Ysquith family, discovers that there are 8 people in the line of succession between him and the position of Earl of Highhurst. He, too, learned that there is a way to succeed without really trying to get to the top: through love and murder. As Monty murders… or perhaps doesn’t murder… his way to the top, the audience is taken for a rollicking and extremely funny ride.

The notes to the show note the similarity of the plot to Kind Hearts and Cornets, the 1949 film starring Alec Guiness, where he played eight different characters in a wealthy family being murdered by the ninth man in line for the fortune. It notes that both Kind Hearts and GGLAM are both based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman. Yet in writing this up the parallels between GGLAM and H2$ are quite striking: a young ambitious man working his way to the top while deftly sabotaging, directly or indirectly, those in the path above him to clear the way. Both, at times, exhibit their era’s stereotypical attitudes that are a little bit off today. Both are extremely funny. Both won Tony awards.

What GGLAM adds to the mix that H2$ does not have, however, is a playful conceit drawn from Kind Hearts: all the family members being killed are portrayed by the same actor. This quick change adds to the fun, because unlike film where there is time to change hair and makeup, stage transitions provide extremely little time. This means the actor portraying the family-to-die must be very versatile and creative.

What are the basics of the story, which was adapted from the aforementioned novel by Robert L. Freedman (FB) (Book and Lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (FB) (Music and Lyrics)? Monty Navarro, who is at the bottom of the social rungs living in poverty, is informed just after his mother’s death that he is a disinherited cousin of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family. His branch was cut off after his mother married a Castilian for love, instead of marrying for position or power. Monty is informed that there are eight D’Ysquiths ahead of him in the line of succession. Monty resolves that he will regain his rightful place in the family. After being scorned on his initial approaches, he meets with the only D’Ysquith that will talk to him: the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith. After a dilemma similar to that faced by Seymour Krelborn with the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors results in the death of the Reverend, Monty resolves that he will become the Ninth Earl of Highhurst. How? Well, this is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, isn’t it? All that stands in front of Monty are Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr., Henry D’Ysquith, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith, Lady Salome D’Yssquith Pumphrey, Asquith D’Ysquith Sr., and Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith.

So where is the Love in the title? That comes from Sibella, the love interest of Monty. However, she does want to marry for wealth and position, which at the start of the story, Monty doesn’t have.  Instead, she marries the boring Lord Hallward and keeps on with Monty on the side … growing more interested in him as he moves his way to the top. Complicating matters, however, arise when Henry D’Ysquith passes. Henry is living with Phoebe D’Ysquith, and quickly, Phoebe falls in love with Monty. She proposes, he accepts, and now you have the complicating love factor of the story.

I won’t go into the closing details of the story; you can get that from the Wikipedia synopsis if you don’t mind the spoilers. Suffice it to say that the path from the first to the last, with the complications of the two women, are hilarious. This is the type of humorous farce that last week’s Bach at Leipzig needed to be, but wasn’t. Under the direction of Darko Tresnjak (FB), the silly and crazy energy required is maintained from the opening song until after the curtain call. Tresnjak brought out a playfulness in his acting team that was broadcast to the audience and was infectious.

The acting team was extremely strong. In the lead positions were John Rapson (FB) as all the members of the D’Ysquith family, and Kevin Massey (FB) as Monty D’Ysquith Navarro. I never saw the original cast member, Jefferson Mays in the role, so I cannot compare. From my vantage, Rapson was astounding — being loads of different characters in different costumes all with different comic mannerisms. He was just a hoot to watch. It seems that everything he did — and he was having fun doing it — was with the express goal of “the funny”. It worked. It is difficult to say which of his many characters was the most fun… it was either Henry or Lord Adalbert in his interactions with his wife. Massey’s Navarro was able to keep up with him; a 1909 Pierpont Finch plotting and scheming and occasionally second-guessing himself in a very funny way. Massey’s songs were less aimed at the funny, and he had a lovely voice with which to carry them off.

The love interests were portrayed by Kristen Beth Williams (FB) as Sibella Hallward and Adrienne Eller (FB) as Phoebe D’Ysquith. Both had lovely singing voices, both were sexy, and both had great comic chops. This was demonstrated in top form in the Act II number “I’ve Decided to Marry You”.  I enjoyed watching them both, but I must admit I was very taken by Eller’s performance (it is just so cute). Fun, fun to watch. Hint: If you sit close enough (or bring binoculars), watch their facial expressions throughout the show (as well as those of the other D’Ysquiths). These actors were really into their roles.

Almost all of the other roles, with the exception of Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel (FB)), the lifelong friend of Monty’s mother who informs him of his status, are played by the members of the ensemble switching into named characters. All of these folks were very strong. Again, it was fun watch their faces and movements — it is clear they are having loads of fun doing this show and that energy and fun comes is projected out to the audience. I do want to highlight  Kristen Megelkoch (FB), who was spectacular as Lady Eugenia — her comic interaction with Rapson’s Lord Adalbert was just hilarious. The ensemble (and swings, because I have no idea whether any of those ninjas were on stage) were: Christopher Behmke (FB) (Magistrate, Guard, Ensemble), Sarah Ellis (FB) (Swing/Dance Captain), Matt Leisy (FB) (Tom Copley, Ensemble), Megan Loomis (FB) (Tour Guide, Ensemble), Dani Marcus (FB) (Swing), Lesley McKinnell (FB) (Miss Barley, Ensemble), Kristen Megelkoch (FB) (Lady Eugenia, Ensemble), David Scott Purdy (FB) (Swing/Fight Captain), Chuck Ragsdale (FB) (Swing), and Ben Roseberry (FB) (Chief Inspector Pinckney, Ensemble).

As they often point out at the soon to be dark Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), live musicals are nothing without live music (a lesson that the Theater League in Thousand Oaks evidently didn’t learn). GGLAM had a 13 person orchestra (when do they change from a band to an orchestra?) under the music direction of Lawrence Goldberg. The orchestra gave a very nice sound and did not overpower the actors. The orchestra consisted of Albin Konopka (FB) (Associate Music Director / Piano), Eric Kang (Piano / Librarian), Jonathan Davis (Oboe / English Horn), Larry Hughes (Clarinet), Andrew Klein (Bassoon), Joe Meyer (French Horn), Robert Schaer (Trumpet), Jen Choi Fischer (Violin 1), Marisa Kuney (Violin 2), Diane Gilbert (Viola), David Mergin (Cello), Ken Wild (Bass), and Cliff Hulling (Percussion). The music contractor was Seymour Red Press / Robert Payne. Paul Staroba was the music supervisor. Orchestrations were by Jonathan Tunick.

The dances in GGLAM make clever use of the space, and are not the typical production numbers (kick kick step turn). Kudos to Peggy Hickey (FB) for the choreography. As dance captain, Sarah Ellis (FB) got the un-envious job of maintaining that choreography on the road.

Turning to the production and creative side: Alexander Dodge‘s scenic design for the tour provides a limited working stage within a stage that keeps the action narrowly focused and emphasizes the comic and theatrical nature of the story being told. This is complemented by the projection design of Aaron Rhyne (FB), which permits the working stage to be many locations through back projection of a scenic flat, often with animation. Both combined with the lighting of Philip S. Rosenberg to provide an effective package of sight and mood. [ETA: An aside on the lighting: I noticed much fewer lights for this show than usual, as it appears the Ahmanson has gone to the more versatile LED lighting systems.] As for sound, the sound design of Dan Moses Schreier was one of the clearest I’ve heard for a tour in ages. Of course, the creativity didn’t stop with the stage, lights, and sounds. They were complemented by the remarkable costumes of Linda Cho, the hair and wig design of Charles G. LaPointe, and the make-up of Brian Strumwasser. As an example of how these were remarkable, consider that John Rapson had to instantly change not only costumes, but wigs and makeup in seconds during transitions, and it was flawless.

The remaining members of the production team were: Dianne Adams McDowell (Vocal Arranger), Binder Casting (Casting), Tripp Phillips (Production Supervisor / Assistant Director), Daniel S. Rosokoff (Production Stage Manager), Eric H. Mayer (Stage Manager), Sarah Helgesen (Assistant Stage Manager).  Neuro Tour provided physical therapy. There were loads and loads of producers. This was an AEA tour.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 1, 2016. Tickets are available through the CTG Box Office. Discount tickets may be available through the CTG Hottix program, and Goldstar. It is well worth it — a well done very funny show.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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

Upcoming Shows: This afternoon saw us in Beverly Hills for A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) — this will be written up in the next day or two.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB) (although we may end up seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) in the Bay Area instead (support their kickstarter), meaning I have a weekend to program!). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz, but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond Musical✨. We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

 

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News Chum – In No Particular Order

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 27, 2016 @ 10:42 am PDT

Observation StewBefore I work on the writeup from last night’s show, I want to clear out the accumulated news chum links. I don’t have the time to put them in any particular theme or order, but I’ll try to give some idea why I thought they were of interest.

 

Something to Chew On

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 25, 2016 @ 11:35 am PDT

userpic=pastramiThese have been a crazy couple of weeks, and I haven’t any time to get out generic news chum articles inbetween all the other stuff. But I need to clear out the links, so here’s a first salvo: a collection of food related news chum:

 

Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Ahmanson 🎭 Geffen

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 22, 2016 @ 7:28 pm PDT

userpic=theatre2Well, the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and The Geffen Playhouse (FB) just announced their upcoming seasons, so it is time for another “Thoughts on a Theatre Season“…

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

The Ahmanson Theatre

Back in January, when Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the Pantages (FB) announced their seasons (and after a moment of silence for Cabrillo), I wrote:

Other Tour Musings: Aladdin: The Musical just announced their national tour, starting in Chicago April-July 2017. Those dates mean it can’t go into the Pantages until at least 2018, and this is show that I’d expect to go into the Pantages. So it may show up at the Ahmanson in the Fall of 2017 (they haven’t announced their season yet), or (more likely) it will be in the Winter or Spring of 2018 at the Pantages. It also sounds like there is a tour of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  It is part of the 2016-2017 SHN San Francisco season, so my guess is that it will be a fall show at the Ahmanson, because (a) it is unlikely they would delay it until 2018, and (b) they rarely, if ever, book plays into the Pantages. Fun Home and Something Rotten have also announced tours; Fun Home starts in late 2016; Rotten in 2017. Given the Pantages schedule, I’m expecting both to show up at the Ahmanson. School of Rock: The Musical has also announced a tour; although that’s a show that would fit the Pantages audience better, the long sitdown at the Pantages means it will likely be an Ahmanson show. Gee. I’ve just figured out the Ahmanson season :-).

The Ahmanson just announced their season, and I ended up being 2 out of 6. Here are my thoughts:

  • Thumbs Down Arthur Miller’s A View from a Bridge. Sep 7 – Oct 16, 2016. This is the Young Vic production, but it doesn’t really excite me.
  • Thumbs Up Amalie: A New Musical. Dec 6, 2016 – Jan 15, 2017. This premiered last fall under the direction of Pam McKinnon at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I liked the movie, so this intrigues me.
  • Thumbs Up Fun HomeFeb 21 – Apr 1, 2017.Tony-winning. Need I say more?
  • Thumbs Down Into the Woods. Apr 4 – May 14, 2017. This is the Fiasco 10-actor version, but I’ve seen the original and I’ve seen it in 99 seat. Why see it again?
  • Thumbs Down Jersey Boys. May 16 – Jun 24, 2017. Been there. Saw it.
  • Thumbs Up Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  Aug 2 – Sep 10, 2017. Oh yes.

This still leaves the question of where Aladdin and School of Rock will end up: I’m guessing the Pantages after Hamilton; similarly, Something Rotten may also end up at the Pantages depending on timing, or the next season at the Ahmanson.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

The Geffen

The Geffen in Westwood has also announced their season. My thoughts:

  • Thumbs Down Barbecue. Sept. 6 to Oct. 16, 2016. Seen last year at the Public Theater in New York. O’Hara’s comedy follows two families — one white, one black — as they bicker and brawl amongst themselves at separate gatherings in a public park.
  • Thumbs Down Margulies’ The Model Apartment. Oct. 11 to Nov. 20, 2016. This debuted in 1995 and tells the story of a retired couple living in a condo.
  • Thumbs Down Icebergs. Nov. 8 to Dec. 18, 2016. This takes place in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, following four friends negotiating professional and personal challenges. World premier of a Alena Smith play.
  • Thumbs Down Benjamin Scheuer’s solo show The Lion. Jan. 4 to Feb. 19.
  • Thumbs Down Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride. April 4, 2017, to May 14, 2017.
  • thumbs-side Payne’s Constellations. June 6, 2017 to July 16, 2017. The elusive story involves a man and a woman, bound together by advanced physics.

Plus two productions to be announced later. Only one show piques my interest, which is about par for the course at the Geffen.

Too Many Words 🎭 “Bach at Leipzig” at Group Rep

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 21, 2016 @ 8:50 pm PDT

Bach at Leipzig (Group Rep)userpic=theatre_ticketsYes, I know the quote really is “Too many notes”, and it applies to Mozart, but go with me here….

Yesterday afternoon, we trundled over to The Group Rep (FB) to see our second show of the weekend: Bach at Leipzig. It was advertised as a farcical comedy: Amadeus meets the Three Stooges. The description of the show on the website was as follows:

Leipzig, Germany – 1722. Johann Kuhnau, revered organist of the Thomaskirche, suddenly dies, leaving his post vacant. The town council invites musicians to audition for the coveted position, among them young Johann Sebastian Bach. In an age where musicians depend on patronage from the nobility or the church to pursue their craft, the post at a prominent church in a cultured city is a near guarantee of fame and fortune -which is why some of the candidates are willing to resort to any lengths to secure it. The play is a fugue-like farcical web of bribery, blackmail, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Enlightenment questions about humanity, God, and art.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Alas, as a famous actor once said,  “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”. And if comedy is hard, pulling off a farce successfully is even harder. Although the author, Itamar Moses, and the director, Calvin Remsberg (FB), try to pull it off — alas, they don’t. Let me describe the story, and then we can try to figure out where the problem lies.

As noted before, it is 1722, and the greatest organist in the world, Johann Kuhnau, has died. A number of musicians are vying for the post, all of whom either have the first name of Johann or Georg. They are also all trying to eliminate the others so they can get the position. That, actually, is really the plot.

The show starts with a lot of exposition. A lot. This exposition continues throughout the show by the characters all writing letters to their wives, who all seemed to be named Anna, and giving them to carrier pigeons to send. There’s a lot of intrigue back and forth, and a bunch of running jokes on the first name of the characters. There is an attempt to draw the structure as a parallel to a fugue with multiple voices all coming together to echo the same point. If you didn’t realize it, it is hammered home with some more exposition at the top of Act II.

bach-publicity-photosIt should work. In fact, reading some reviews of other productions, I think it has worked elsewhere. But for me, aside from a few good lines, it was a little flat. I think the problem was two-fold. First, the long portions of exposition doesn’t serve the show well. The author needs a better way to get the audience into the context of the story than the artifice of all the letters, and they just serve to slow things down. Talk. Talk. Talk. This is theatre. There should be acting, not loads of monologues. Secondly, for farce to work it needs to be fast-paced and extremely well timed. It should hit you like a one-two punch, surprising you with one silliness before you’ve had time to process the last. This version was much too slow-paced, especially in the humor. The confusion at the various points needs to be amplified. The tempo needs to be upped, and that might even overcome the problem with the words.

Other than the tempo problems, I think the performances themselves were pretty good. I particularly enjoyed the lead, Chris Winfield (FB), as Fasch: he opened the show, and he pretty much moved the action along. He just needed to move it a little bit faster 😁. I also enjoyed Troy Whitaker (FB)’s Lenck. He had the right touch of youthful overconfidence in his abilities to make him fun to watch. I’ve seen him a few times in other productions and found him strong there (and his voice reminds me, strangely, of John Delancie).

Lloyd Pedersen gave Kaufmann a wonderful clueless dandy nature that was fun to watch. Larry Eisenberg (FB)’s Schott had a wonderful air of treachery around him.

The remaining two characters, Mikel Parraga-Wills (FB)’s Steindorff and Todd Andrew Ball (FB)’s Graupner, left less of an impression. I’m not sure what to make of Parraga-Wills’ Steindorff — Haughty, Handsome, but otherwise not leaving much of an impression. Similarly, Ball’s Graupner left a minor impression. I’m not sure whether that was the author’s intent — that they be minor strands in the overall fugue — or it was how it was played.

Lastly, there was Steve Terrell/FB‘s “Greatest Organist in Germany”. I hear he has a wonderful speaking voice.

Turning to the production team:  The scenic and lighting design of J. Kent Inasy (FB), was a reasonably adaptable series of faux-marble arches that were suitable for the various court discussions (this wasn’t a prop-heavy play, other than the various hiding places for music — another running gag).  Steve Shaw (FB)’s sound design worked well, particularly the directionality of the organ music. A Jeffrey Schoenberg (FB)’s costumes were excellent, which isn’t a surprise when you realize he’s been working in the Renaissance costuming field for ages. Adam Conn (FB) seemed suitably realistic to this non-fencing expert. Michele Bernath (FB) was the assistant to the director, and the producer was Suzy London (FB).

[ETA: One additional note on the show I just remembered: This is an era where there is loads and loads of talk of diversity in the theatre: both onstage and offstage. I found myself thinking about this as I noticed there was not one female part in this production. If we want audience diversity, we must demonstrate diversity in what is presented.]

Bach at Leipzig continues through May 1, 2016 at The Group Rep (FB). Tickets are available through the Group Rep website. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or on LA Stage Tix.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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

Upcoming Shows: The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday, followed by A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) on Sunday.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz (if we miss it at the Celebration), but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Better Warn the Pantages….

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 21, 2016 @ 5:22 pm PDT

Cabrillo Userpicuserpic=colonyuserpic=repeastI’m three for three.

All three of the theaters at which I subscribed at the end of 2015 have gone dark or belly up.

  • REP just went silent; there have been no newsletters or messages to subscribers since December. A 2016 season was never announced. An old message on the grapevine said they might be back in August. We’ll see.
  • The Colony Theatre announced they were cancelling the last two shows of their seasons, and there was no prognosis for the future. One could “donate” the remainder of the tickets for a tax write-off, or wait to see if something emerges. No offers of refunds. At least the Colony had the decency to tell subscribers before the media.
  • Cabrillo Music Theatre announced today that they were closing up shop at the Civic Arts Plaza at the end of this season. The next season was cancelled, and the future is unknown. The TO Civic Arts Plaza will be refunding subscriptions and donations. They informed the media and Facebook before they sent the mail to subscribers.

First, someone better warn the Pantages — we just subscribed there. It also makes me think twice about subscribing at the Pasadena Playhouse: it looks like companies that have come out of financial problems remain shaky and unsteady. and Pasadena is only a few years out.

So here’s my question: We traditionally have had three subscriptions: one intimate, one mid-size, and one large. Arguably, the large is now the Pantages. So where should we consider for the intimate and the mid-size? I’ve got my ideas, but I’d like to hear your suggestions.

Finding Acceptance 👗 “Casa Valentina” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 20, 2016 @ 12:24 pm PDT

Casa Valentina (Pasadena Playhouse)userpic=pasadena-playhouseIn the last two years, we’ve seen remarkable strides in the acceptance arena. We’ve seen homosexuals get the right to be married; we’ve been able to observe the transformation of Wheaties Box Heroes from one gender to the other. We’ve seen acceptance of a wide range of sexual preference in society, from no preference at all (asexual) to traditional preference to non-traditional preferences. We’ve seen similar understanding (perhaps not full acceptance yet) of the full range of gender identities. But this hasn’t been comfortable for many; arguably, many wish for those simpler days when the roles and nature of the sexes were much more separate, and those roles and orientations that went against “what nature intended” were best hidden from sight.

The play Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein (FB), officially opening tonight for a run through April 10, 2016 at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) (which we saw last night) explores those days. It is based upon the true story of Casa Susana, a resort that existed in the Catskill Mountains of New York in the 1950s and early 1960s. The resort catered to men who wanted to release the girl within; in other words, it provided heterosexual men a place where they could endulge their desire to dress as women.  This is an era when homosexuality was firmly in the closet, and any inkling of transvestism except as humor tended to be an offense that could land you in jail. The genders, for the most part, were clearly distinct (and God meant them to be that way).

In the play, George (Valentina) and his wife Rita are the proprietors of Chevalier d’Eon, a resort in the Catskills catering to men who like to dress as women. We meet them when a first-timer, Jonathan, arrives for the weekend. He is greeted by Rita and Bessie (Albert), a large friendly girl. Both welcome him, and Bessie helps him get over his fear of transformation into his alter ego, Miranda. We shortly learn that this is a weekend when most of the regulars are present, because there is another special first time guest: Charlotte (Isadore). George arrives home, and during his transformation into Valentina provides more information. Charlotte is from California and is the publisher of a transvestite magazine for which Valentina regularly writes articles. Charlotte has an announcement that could be the savior of George, Rita, and the resort.  George also discusses with Rita the reason he arrived late: he was being questioned by the postal inspectors about an envelope of pictures of naked cross-dressing men that had been addressed to him. This worries Rita, and she asks him to discuss it with another of that weekend’s guests, Amy (The Judge).

Soon the other guests have arrived — Gloria (Michael) and Theodore (Terry) — and it is time for the announcement. Their informal sorority was going legit. Charlotte had incorporated it as a non-profit in California, and he just needed their legal (birth names) on a form to sign as officers. Discussion of the risks of this uncover that they are signing a second statement: that they are not homosexuals. It turns out that Charlotte is a strong advocate for transvestites and wants them to be accepted in society. To do this, he believes, they must disassociate themselves from the homosexual cross-dressers. He says something to the effect of: in 50 years, society will broadly accept the cross-dresser, while homosexuals will still be on the outside. Quite a telling line.  This requirement — to disavow homosexuals — essentially splits the group. I won’t go into the dynamics from there as it would spoil the story.

This notion — of hetrosexual transvestites — provides some of the most interesting discussions and characters of the story. Much of this centers around Rita, the wife of Valentina and the only GG (genuine girl) on stage for much of the show. What is her relationship to George? What is the relationships of the other characters with their wives? Through exploration of those questions, we begin to see the nature of transvestite relationship: the distinction between the relationship between the man and “the girl within” and their spouses.

All of this is told — as would be expected from Firestein — through loads of extremely humorous lines. This is a very funny play, as humor often comes from great pain. I should note the humor is not from the cross-dressing (as those who recall Milton Bearle or Flip Wilson might recall), but from commentary on life itself.

As I left the play, I had quite a few observations and “compare and contrasts” going through my head. The first was with the musical Dogfight, which we had seen earlier this year.  In the first half of Dogfight, the notion of Marines competing to find the ugliest woman, and possibly bed her against her will, just grated against today’s mores against non-consensual sex and how we treat women. Similarly, the notions expressed in Casa Valentina against cross-dressing and homosexuality grate against where society is today: where gays are accepted, and transgender has come out of the closet into something closer to a cultural norm.

The second comparison, which was related to the first, was seeing Casa Valentina in a triangle with two other shows: Feirstein’s Kinky Boots and the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Unlike what was hypothesized in the play, homosexuality has not remained on the outside. In much of the country, homosexuals are completely accepted. It is out in the open and dramatized on commercial TV. As for transvestites: although some still hold the view that many are gay, the efforts of the transgender movement has brought out into the open that some see themselves as female: women trapped in a male body. But this play doesn’t concern either of those: it deals with men with a clear male gender identity and clear heterosexuality just wanting to dress as women. In society today, there’s only one way such men are accepted: as drag queens. Does society accept men who just cross-dress and pass? Have we reached the To Wan Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar level? I’m not sure were there yet. Places like Casa Valentina no longer need to exist… or do they?

A final observation has to do with the ending, which is somewhat sudden and on an odd note. The play ends with a discussion between Rita and George about the nature of their relationship, and how it might differ from the relationship between George and Valentina. Rita knows she is George’s wife, but what is she to Valentina. The answer disturbs her, and we end the show with Rita slumped at the table, head in her hands.  It raises the question about how all this looks from the wives of such men: there is acceptance, but what is the relationship. Could be an interesting character study.

Overall, what is the impact of the story of Casa Valentina? On the surface, this is a very funny show. It is possible that the surface level is all that was meant. But I think the show has a deeper takeaway: it makes a statement about how society has grown and changes, and how what we predict might be the direction of grown might be very different from what actually happens. It demonstrates the power that fear of discovery can have, and makes us realize that we still have a ways to go for full acceptance. Lastly, it raises wonderful questions about the nature of our relationships: our relationship to the facets of our personality, as well as our relationships to our spouses and our friends.

Director David Lee leads the actors to a very natural performance.  He lets the actors draw the humor from the words, and doesn’t draw humor from the costumes. This leads to a very easygoing and humorous show. He has also worked to design the show around a gigantic house as opposed to a flat stage. I believe this amplifies the closeness of the quarters and the closeness of the men. It is a different way of staging the show from the pictures I have seen of other productions.

The actors themselves are excellent. I think the most interesting was Valerie Mahaffey (FB)’s Rita. There was some hidden depth to her character that came off through her performance that was fascinating. Just seeing her in relationship with the men and their girl alter-egos was fascinating. She was part wife, part sister, part confidant, part girl friend. A multilevel complex character, well portrayed.

I also enjoyed the performance of Raymond McAnally (FB; FB Actor Page) as Albert/Bessie.  When compared to the other actors, I think he inhabited his girl most completely. There was no sense that there was a man under the frock: this was a loving, open girl who was having fun and just being herself. This was a very open portrayal that made the character very accessible to the audience.

Christian Clemenson‘s Charlotte/Isadore perhaps did the best “crossing”: her portrayal of Charlotte was seamlessly female, and was a fascinating character to watch in her portrayal and her passion.

As for the other “girls” in the cast — James Snyder (FB)’s Jonathan/Miranda, Robert Mammana (FB)’s George/Valentina, Mark Jude Sullivan (FB)’s Michael/Gloria, Lawrence Pressman (FB)’s Theodore/Terry, and John Vickery (FB)’s The Judge/Amy — I’m trying to think if there are any portrayals that stick out in my mind… and there aren’t. They generally came across as men dressing as women and playing their characters. They were good, but none had that special something that transcended the line between the man and the girl.

Rounding out the cast was Nike Doukas as Eleanor, the Judge’s daughter, who only appeared in one scene. The understudies are Matthew Magnusson (FB) (Michael/Gloria, Jonathan/Miranda), Mark Capri (FB) (The Judge/Amy, Theodore/Terry, Albert/Bessie), and Sean Smith (FB) (George/Valentina, Charlotte/Isadore).

Turning to the production and creative team: The small amount of choreography in the show was provided by Mark Esposito; what was there worked well. The scenic design by Tom Buderwitz was mentioned previously: a gigantic house on a turntable that rotated to bring to the fore various rooms and locations. It worked well, but it was interesting following the actors through the rooms. The costumes (by Kate Bergh (FB)) and wigs (by Rick Geyer) were a key to this show: they worked well on their characters and did an excellent job of creating the illusion of femininity (or at least men dressing as women). The lighting was by Jared A. Sayeg (FB) and was up to his usual excellent standards. The sound design was by Philip G. Allen and consisted primarily of sound effects and recorded music, which worked well. Remaining technical and production credits: Mike Mahaffey (FB) — Fight Choreographer; Jeff Greenberg Casting — Casting; Jill Gold — Production Stage Manager; Julie Ann Renfro — Assistant Stage Manager; Joe Witt — General Manager; Christopher Cook — Production Manager; Brad Enlow — Technical Director. Sheldon Epps is the Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse.

Casa Valentina continues at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) through April 10. Tickets are available through the Pasadena Playhouse website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. I think this show is worth seeing.

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced their 2016-2017 season, and I’ve gone over it here. It may be worth subscribing, but I need to see their pricing. In the past, Playhouse season pricing has been expensive, and Goldstar has been the better option.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday, followed by A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) on Sunday.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We’re also considering the Voices/Rising concert from Muse/ique on April 3 in Alhambra. We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz (if we miss it at the Celebration), but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

My Father: A Remembrance (2016)

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 19, 2016 @ 5:40 am PDT

userpic=father-and-son

Every year on my dad’s birthday I post a remembrance that I wrote the day after he died in 2004. Today he would have been 94. As I wrote last year: As I get older, I see more and more of my father in me — and I like what I see, and I’m grateful he gave so much to me that makes me who I am.

My father was born in Flushing NY in 1922. He was the eldest of four brothers; the son of a tailor who lived over his shop. I can’t give you too many details of the early days. His mother died young, when he was in his twenties, and sometime thereafter, his family moved to Los Angeles (how’s that for glossing over details). My dad went to Southwestern School of Accounting, and was a Public Accountant. He married his first wife in the late 1940s, and my brother was born in 1952. He loved my brother very, very much. He divorced that wife in 1955, and retained custody of my brother. He married my mother in 1956, and I was born in 1960. My mother was a CPA, so they formed an accounting company of their own, Faigin and Faigin. My brother died, reportedly due to an accident (I never knew the true details) in 1970. It devistated both my parents. My mother died in 1990 on my wedding anniversary. My father remarried a year or so later to Rae, who had lost her husband. This brought me some new wonderful family members. This should bring you up to date on the familial backstory.

So, who was my dad, and what do I remember. This is a jagged collection of memories.

I remember being in Indian Guides with him, painting rocks and bark to invite people to meetings. I remember going on Indian Guide campouts with him. It is because of this that I did Indian Princesses with my daughter, continuing the tradition. I recommend this program to anyone who is a dad.

I remember going on trips with him to East Los Angeles, to visit his clients. We would hit small mom and pop grocery stores, Mexican candy companies. I’d always get sweets… and get to sort the paid bills afterwards.

I remember him taking the time to be with me.

I remember him telling bad jokes, and being enamored with old-time radio stars, such as Al Jolsen (his favorite), Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, and so on.

I remember his teeth. Specifically, I remember how he would remove his dentures just to gross out us kids.

I remember him taking me to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion to see musicals, starting in 1972 when my mother was too sick to attend The Rothschilds. From this came my love of musicals.

I remember him reading Robert W. Service to me, especially Bessie’s Boil.

I remember him, at the Passover Seder, reading the Four Sons. He loved to act, mug, and play with his voice to make a point during the story.

I remember him being active in the Masons and the Shriners, especially with his good friend, Raymond Schwartz. I remember him going to the Masonic Picnics.

I remember him playing bridge with my mom and their friends, the Cohens, the Schwartzes, and the Strausses. Perhaps this is where I got my love of gaming.

I remember him telling stories of his time in the Navy, when he was a pharmacists mate, 2nd class, at Camp Elliott, which is now part of Mirimar NAS in San Diego. He found it ironic that he was in the Navy, as he could never swim.

I remember his disorganized tool-bench, where eventually you could find what you need. I still have his 30 year old power drill, which I still use today.

I remember him taking care of my mother as she died of cancer, and fiercely defending her when we would fight.

In his later years, I remember him fighting with the computer, and eventually learning to use it and to use Email. However, he could never quite get the printer figured out. I would get calls from him that stuff wasn’t printing, and it was because he had been playing with the printer queue again.

I remember him cooking. He loved to cook peppers and onions in olive oil. He made a mean spaghetti sauce, and a great pot roast in tomatoe sauce. Rae says that I got my cooking skills from him, with which I must agree, as I don’t think my mom could cook.

I remember him collecting autographs and first day covers. For many, he would frame them and put them all over the walls.

I remember his love of baseball, which never rubbed off.

I remember him taking pictures. And more pictures. And more pictures. And still more pictures. I’ll probably find about 50 cameras at the house, together with probably 200 photo albums. In particular, I remember a few specific cameras: His Konica T-3 SLR, which I have. His Fuji POS, which he received at a special party my mother threw for him at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

I remember him loving fountain pens, just like me. He had boxes of pens, and even more ink. He’s the only man I know that has a quart bottle of Schaeffer Black Quink Ink in his supply closet. There are about 6 bottles of ink on his desk (I only have 3).

I remember him being a luddite when it comes to computerizing financies. He left me loads of two-peg journal books to go through to figure out stocks and bank accounts.

I remember him being a packrat. He collected office supplies. He collected biographical books. He collected CDs. You name it, he collected it.

I remember him being a good friend and caring about other people. After my mother died and he remarried, his new wife’s children were treated the same as his natural children, with the same love. He was a second grandfather to my sister-in-law’s children. He was there when people needed him. Until his last year, he volunteered to help seniors with their taxes.

For many years, I remember him being a staunch Republican, going counter to my mother, the strong liberal. I remember him backing Nixon and Reagan. This year [nb: this was written in 2004], however, had he been strong enough, he was going to vote for John Kerry.

I remember him being a people person. He would just light up when he was around people, especially those that hadn’t heard his stories before.

I remember him being there for me and my family. We spoke weekly on the phone, something I will miss, talking about everything. He had good advice, which I grew to respect as I got older. To the youngsters reading this: listen to your parents. They’ve been their and made the same mistakes. They do know what they are talking about.

I remember his love for his granddaughter. He had pictures of her everywhere, and she loved him. I remember him taking her to Disneyland when she was three, and being there in the hospital when she had her open heart surgery at the age of four.

I remember his love for his family. He enjoyed spending time with his brothers, Herbert, Ronald, and Tom, and researching family history. [I’ll note we lost Uncle Herbert in 2011, and Uncle Tom just last year; luckily, Uncle Ron is still going strong.] When my daughter was little, we picked up a copy of Grandfather Remembers and gave it to him. He filled it out, and now it is a lasting memory for her of her grandfather. To those of you who are grandparents: take the time now to write out your memories for your grandchildren. Record an oral history. Annotate your photo albums. It is worth the time. You will create that memory that will outlive you.

I remember how he loved Yiddish and Yiddish stories. I remember him reading the Freiheit. [ETA: I think he would have been extremely proud to see his granddaughter become the Yiddish scholar that she is.]

I remember (or have discovered) how he loved his wives. I remember how he loved my mother, Nancy, even through the depths of her depression, her anger, her rages, her illnesses. I remember how he rarely lost his temper (and when he did, you needed to worry). I remember when he first told me he had met Rae, and how they quickly grew to love each other. Even though there was an age difference there, I saw the deep affection that existed between them. He chose well.

I remember how he touched people. A few months ago, I went to a funeral that was packed to the gills of people who loved the deceased. My father had friends all over the world, and helped many people.

In short, I remember a deeply caring man, who I really think was responsible for making me the way I am today (both for good and for bad). He does live on in me, and I think he lives on in my daughter as well. As long as we remember someone, they never die.