Observations Along the Road

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

Shifting Views of Home

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 17, 2014 @ 10:13 am PDT

Broadway Bound (Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in the last century — especially in the period between the 50s and the 80s — if you wanted comedy you went to a Neil Simon play or musical. Productions like the “The Odd Couple“, “Hot L Baltimore“, “Plaza Suite“, “Little Me”, “Sweet Charity” and many others were reliable comedy vehicles. Today, however, Simon seems to be forgotten. His plays — which were laugh-a-minute joke fests — are produced far less often. But I’ve always liked Neil Simon, and try to see his plays when I can. I have memories (which I believe to be true) of seeing Simon’s Eugene trilogy when it was first performed in Los Angeles in the 1980s at the Ahmanson (the last show was in 1989, but I think I was getting selected Ahmanson tickets then). More recently, REP East (FB) Playhouse has produced the middle show in the trilogy (I thought they did the first show as well, but can’t find the writeup). When I read that Jason Alexander (who we had recently seen in Las Vegas) was directing a production of the third show in the trilogy, “Broadway Bound“, I started looking for tickets. Luckily, the Odyssey put them up on Goldstar… and so last night saw us in West LA at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB), watching the final chapter in the story of Eugene Jerome.

Let me start by giving some background on the Eugene Trilogy itself. The trilogy is a very slightly veiled autobiographical series of plays, with the Eugene Jerome character serving as Simon’s stand-in; Eugene’s brother, Stanley, corresponds to Simon’s brother, Danny. The first chapter explored Eugene’s early days in Brighton Beach; the second chapter explored his growth into writing while in the Army. The third chapter (“Broadway Bound“) obstensibly explores Neil and Danny Simon’s (Eugene and Stanley Jerome’s) first foray into the comedy writing world as they become writers for television. As such, you would expect the focus of “Broadway Bound” to be Eugene — and that’s what I remembered about the play from when I saw it in my 20s.

I’m no longer in my 20s — instead, I’m much closer to the age of Eugene’s parents in the story. Further, I’ve been married just about as long as Eugene’s parents have been married (today is the start of year 30; Eugene’s parents have been married 33 years). Seeing “Broadway Bound” again with an additional 30 years of experience under my belt, I’ve come to realize that this third chapter isn’t a story about Eugene. It really is a story about Kate and Jack, Eugene’s parents. The disintegration of their marriage and the strength of the mother is the focus of this story; Eugene and Stanley propel it along, but their story is a secondary one. Many critics have harped on this as making this story weaker — they’ve cited it as evidence that Simon just tried to pile too much into the story. I think that is more a reaction to the bait-and-switch: you go in expecting another joke-a-minute comedy like “Bixoli“, and discover you are in more of a dramedy exploring the impacts of aging on a family.

When you look at “Broadway Bound” as a comedy — especially if you are expecting the constant jokes of the early Neil Simon — you’ll be disappointed. Although the play is quite funny (although not as funny as last week’s “Buyer and Cellar), you don’t walk out feeling the humor. In the play, the humor comes from Eugene’s observations about life. However, when you look at “Broadway Bound” as that dramedy, it fares quite well. For example, in Ben Epstein (Kate’s father), I clearly see the aging of my mother-in-law — the stubbornness, the forgetfulness, and the unexpected behavior. It reminds me not to get upset at these things, but to find the humor in them. I see elements of long-term relationships I’ve seen in Kate and Jack: how raising children can distance parents; how not talking about problems can push people away from each other; and how the key elements in a relationship is not fidelity, but trust. These are useful lessons, presented with gentle humor. Lastly, the play presents how different parties in a relationship see things in different ways. Kate always see Jack as the young man that he was — the man who noticed her because she danced with George Raft. Jack, on the other hand, sees Kate as she is: a woman who no longer hears him, can discuss things with him, and who is just focused on serving. It shows the growing apart with gentle humor.

As for Eugene and Stanley’s story, it is just the backdrop upon which this relationship story is told. It provides the impetus for the movement of time; it allows Eugene to opine on what is happening. But through the story the characters of Eugene and Stanley never really change. They were comedy writers at the start, and they are comedy writers at the end. The comedy allows them to detach and observe life, but they never learn from it. They can see the humor in what is happening, but can they see the pathos? They also shift in their view of home: it is in this play that Eugene and Stanley (Neal and Danny) move out of the house and being their adult lives, no longer tied to the family drama.

Jason Alexander (FB) adds a number of directoral touches that shows his familiarity with that era from his childhood. Directors can’t influence the written words of the script, but they can influence how they are presented, how the set is decorated and arranged, and the unspoken nuances of the character action. From the absent-minded actions of the mother to the lilts in the movement, Alexander made these people realistic. It was joy to watch.

The presentation was also helped by the talent of the acting ensemble. The youngest generation was portrayed by Ian Alda (FB) as Eugene Jerome and Noah James as Stanley Jerome. Alda demonstrated the talent in his familial lineage — at times he had the winning smile and charm of his famous uncle, and he handled the drama and movement as well as his grandfather. His Eugene was not overly annoying, nor did it channel Matthew Broderick or others that have portrayed the character. James’ Stanley was appropriate boyant, energetic, and crazy. He kept reminding me of someone — I want to say a young Bronson Pinochot. This is a good thing, for he brought the correct intensity to the character.

The parents generation was represented by Gina Hecht (FB) as Kate Jerome, Michael Mantell as Jack Jerome, and Betsy Zajko (FB) as Blanche Morton (Kate’s sister). Hecht has worked with Alexander before, and their familiarity comes through in the easy and realistic way she inhabits Eugene’s mother. She makes the mother believable, with both realistic pain and joy. She brings Kate to life. We see less of Mantell’s Jack, but Mantell’s portrayal makes him come across as … tired. He’s not tired in a depressed way, but its obvious his character is craving more out of life than the same-old same-old, and Kate just doesn’t see that, driving him away. Mantell does a great job of bringing him to life. Lastly, Zajko’s Blanche has a much smaller role (one scene), but she handles that well and believably.

The grandparent’s generation was represented by Allan Miller (FB) as Ben Epstein. He captured the befuddled old man well, but had some wonderful glimpses of his old self in his interactions with Jack.

Turning to the technical side of the presentation: The set design by Bruce Goodrich, combined with the prop design of Katherine S. Hunt (FB), created a wonderful two-level house that appeared to be correctly dressed for the late 1940s. This was augmented with the costume design of Kate Bergh (FB) and the wig design of Marylin Philips to create a realistic place and characters for the story. The sound design by Martin Carrillo (FB) was impressive — particularly the directionality of the subway trains which far too easily could have come from the same speakers as everything else. Leigh Allen (FB)’s lighting also worked well to focus attention when required. Donna Hosseinzadeh (FB) and Amandla Jahava were the assistant directors; Lee Martino (FB) provided the choreography; and Jennifer Palumbo/FB was the stage manager.

Broadway Bound” has been extended, and continues at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) until September 28. I’d get your tickets through the Odyssey box office; it is sold out on 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:  Tonight brings a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center. Next 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). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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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The Anniversary Post

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 17, 2014 @ 5:41 am PDT

userpic=anniversaryTwenty-nine years ago today Karen and I got married (in Woodland Hills, by Rabbi John Sherwood Z”L). Here’s looking forward to at least twenty-nine more years…

(to the tune of the “William Tell Overture”)
Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

Pour a cheerful toast and fill it, Happy Anniversary
But be careful you don’t spill it, Happy Anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary
Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

Happy she and happy he, They’re both as happy as can be
Celebrating merrily, their happy anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary
Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

We now state emphatically, it’s happy anniversary
Not another day could be, a happy anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary
Happy (slow)
Happy (slow)
Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy (fast) Anniversary!!!

(Gioacchino Rossini; arr. William Hanna / Joseph Barbera)

Many years ago I saw a post on LJ that suggested an interesting tradition for anniversaries: For each year that you are married, post one thing that you love about your spouse. This year marks year № 29:

  1. I love that she keeps her head in a crisis.
  2. I love that she knows how to calm me down when I start panicking.
  3. I love that she helps me think logically when dealing with big ticket items or expenses.
  4. I love that she knows how to think through situations logically.
  5. I love that she is a very loyal friend, going out of her way to help others.
  6. I love that she is able to express herself very well, and convey information the information to others in ways they can understand.
  7. I love that she is a very good cook, coming up with creative gluten-free dishes.
  8. I love that she is willing to put away the laundry.
  9. I love that she pulls off very nice parties.
  10. I love that she has a good decorating sense.
  11. I love that she cleans up nicely :-)
  12. I love that she puts up with my disappearing off to Boardgame days and my working on the highway pages.
  13. I love the needlecrafting and fabric arts that she does (that is, the results–I’m less enthralled with the stash).
  14. I love that she knows how to deal with our daughter when I’m getting frustrated.
  15. I love that she was active in our daughter’s school life.
  16. I love that she is willing to deal with family situations I don’t want to deal with.
  17. I love that she is willing to deal with contractors and repair critters.
  18. I love that she doesn’t spend too much on quilting and fabric supplies :-).
  19. I love that she has similar tastes in friends to me.
  20. I love that she enjoys going to the theatre with me.
  21. I love that she understands that I’m not romantically inclined.
  22. I love that she puts up me when I’m dealing with my headaches.
  23. I love her compatible music tastes.
  24. I love that she’ll take my car in to get serviced, as opposed to saying “It’s your problem. Deal.”
  25. I love that she and I can have wonderfully intelligent conversations.
  26. I love her creativity.
  27. I love how she has helped raise our daughter into a bright, capable young woman.
  28. I love that she enjoys doing the “Berkeley Run” with our daughter.
  29. I love that she reminds me when it’s time to do the Anniversary Post (she reminded me in the car last night).

Of course, this list doesn’t include the things I love about her that I can’t post publicly :-). Maybe next year. You’ll just have to wait and see.

News Chum Stew: Media, History, Vegas, and Patches

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 16, 2014 @ 1:36 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the links. This week is comparatively sparse compared to last week, the result of a busy week at work combined with the news cycle being dominated by celebrity deaths (the shock of Robin Williams, which overshadowed Lauren Bacall’s death the next day, just like Michael Jackson overshadowed Farrah Fawcett Majors) and police actions (with people acting surprised that racism exists in America… alas, it goes hand-in-hand with similar attitudes towards religion and sexual orientation — America isn’t perfect folks — it is our job to make it better). In any case, here are a few, perhaps less controversial, subjects that managed to catch my eye:

 

Shop Locally

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 10, 2014 @ 7:46 am PDT

Buyer and Cellar (Mark Taper Forum)userpic=ahmansonOne of the most popular movements these days is the locavore movement. The notion is to promote sustainability by eating food that grown or raised locally. An offshoot program encourages people to shop from local merchants and support the local community, as opposed to buying products from no-name large corporations. This is a project that progressives love — in fact, one progressive went so far as to install a shopping mall in her basement, and she does all her shopping there. Well, that’s sort-of the premise of the comedy “Buyer and Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins, starring Michael Urie and directed by Stephen Brackett, now at the Mark Taper Forum.

Buyer and Cellar” is a comedy that takes a “What If?” to its absurdist conclusion. In a book she published about home design, Barbra Streisand indicated she had collected so many items over her years that she arranged them into a collection of shops in the basement of her Malibu barn. What if, Tolins hypothesized, she actually formed them into a mall, and actually hired someone to staff the mall. That’s the basis of B&C — Urie’s character is an out-of-work gay actor hired by Streisand to staff the mall. When the Barbra finally shows up to shop, Urie’s character (Alex) makes a connection with the woman which grows and grows… until he ultimately figures out her ultimate purpose.

The show itself was hilarious. The premise is wonderfully abusrdist, and the stories told truly hit home for Los Angeles natives (who actually understand the amount of time the Santa Monica City Council spends debating parking at a Panera). When combined with Urie’s willing and warm (and natural) performance, it is a delight. I’ve noted in the past how I rarely laugh at shows. This one was truly laugh-out-loud funny.

I’m not sure how much else I can say about this one. The scenic design by Andrew Boyce was overly simple: A white room, with a chair, table and bench, augmented by video projections by Alex Koch that really added very little. I’d go so far to say that there was no scenic design, as it was the actor that created the sense of place, not the scenery, projection, or props (other than Streisand’s book). The sound design by Stowe Nelson was only visible in the wireless microphone stuffed down the back of Urie’s pants.  The lighting by Eric Southern was similarly simple.

Drew Blau was the company manager, Michael T. Clarkson was the production stage manager, and Hannah Woodward was the stage manager.

Buyer and Cellar” continues until August 17 at the Mark Taper Forum. Tickets are available here.

[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:  This evening brings a Queen-emulation band at the Valley Cultural Center’s concert in the park. Next weekend brings “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). I’m also thinking about a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center on Sunday, 8/17. 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). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

Link Chum Stew: News, Design, CSUN, Food, Changing Times, and History, plus a Theatre Rant

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 09, 2014 @ 8:49 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the links. This has been a busy week: I finished my year-long analysis of the 800-53 controls at work; our daughter returned from her summer on the East Coast; and there was the usual MoTAS work. I collected a number of links, but forgot to send them all back to me on Friday, so I couldn’t theme them as I wanted to. Oh well. I still think there are some really taste nuggets in here:

*: OK, addressing the item from Footlights. I understand the desire for an app, but I’m not seeing what’s unique here. I learn about my theatre from Goldstar and LA Stage Tix (and I’d love a Goldstar Android app — they only have iOS). Bitter-Lemons will eventually come out with a rating app (I participated in the Kickstarter). So why do I need an app to see what LA Theatre is around. What I need is an app that combines Amazon and Foursquare — looking at my theatre history and what I have liked or dislikes, and recommending particular shows in an upcoming time frame that will be of interest to me. That’s the app I want.

Your Worst Nightmare

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 03, 2014 @ 5:06 pm PDT

Family Planning (Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyWhat’s a young adult family’s worst nightmare? Losing your job? No, you can start over. How about your parents moving back in with you, to live, for an unspecified period of time? That’s truly scary. That’s also the basic premises of the comedy “Family Planning” by Michelle Kholos Brooks (FB) in its last weeks at  The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank, which we saw last night.

Family Planning” tells the story of Sidney (Dee Ann Newkirk (FB)) and Michael (Jack Sundmacher (FB)). Sidney is an artist who is working from home; Michael is an unspecified businessman who has recently quit his regular job to start a new Internet business. They have the freedom to do this because, after Sidney’s parent’s divorced, they didn’t sell the family house in Westchester County, NY. Instead, after renting it for a bit, they offered it to Sidney and Michael to live in. However, there appear to be strings. After some setbacks (which I won’t disclose because they are part of the humor), Sidney’s father, Larry (Bruce Weitz) has moved back in with them. After years of being a hard-driving businessman, Larry has gotten into yoga and all that goes with it. As the story begins, Sidney and Michael are attempting to have a little, ummm, adult fun in the living room while the “visitor” in the back of the house is asleep. They are interrupted (because, as Teenagers from Outer Space notes, sex isn’t funny, but frustration is) by a knock at the door. It is Diane (Christina Pickles (FB)), Sidney’s mother, who has suddenly come back home leaving her 2nd husband behind in Birmingham AL. At this point, Larry comes out, and the two of them start going at it tooth and nail.

That’s the setup, and there are loads and loads of humorous details as the story swiftly (90 minutes, no intermission) moves towards its resolution. I won’t spoil the story with the details, but suffice it to say that the situation rang true. We’re currently dealing with a parent in assisted living, and we could just imagine the horror if she had to move in with us. I know others in the same situation… so much so that I truly appreciated the line “You’re truly sexy when you’re thinking homicidal thoughts about your parents.”.

Normally, I don’t laugh out loud at shows — even comedies. Often the comedy is predictable, or the jokes are mundane or obvious. This show was different: there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments with unexpected twists and turns. The ending, of course, is predictable: the situation must be reconciled. The journey to get there is a hoot. Cameron Watson (FB), the director, did an excellent job at keeping the story moving forward, and making the characters behave and interact in a realistic fashion. There wasn’t a minute where I felt the show was dragging.

As I noted, the performances were quite believable — and you could tell the actors were having fun with this. Dee Ann Newkirk (FB) and Jack Sundmacher (FB) were a believable couple with good chemistry; the nuances of their behavior made this very believable. Bruce Weitz and Christina Pickles (FB) were also believable as the parents. For the most part, their behavior was also belivable; alas, there were a few line hesitations that shouldn’t have been there the penultimate week of the run. They weren’t enough to be a problem, but they were like the occasional “pop” in a vinyl LP — just a little distracting.

The scenic design was spectacular. David Potts outdid himself in creating a believable suburban house (with supporting scenic art by Orlando de la Paz. John McElveney (FB), as usual, did the set dressing and properties design, and I felt bad at the quantities of props this show must go through (and the clean up afterwards). The costume design was by Kate Bergh, and seemed to reflect that age and disposition of the people wearing them. The sound design was by Steven Cahill (FB), who outdid himself with the wonderful scene-interstitial music. Lighting was by the resident Colony lighting designer, Jared A. Sayeg (FB), and established the mood quite well. Dale Alan Cooke (FB) was the Production Stage Manager.

Family Business” continues at the Colony for one more week, until August 10th. Tickets are available from the Colony Box Office online.

[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). I’m also thinking about a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center on Sunday, 8/17. 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). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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: Lots of Meaty Stuff of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 02, 2014 @ 4:37 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the accumulated links. I tried to theme these, but I kept coming back to things I always theme about: history, changes, interesting stories, and such. So I thought I would just share them all in one post, with commentary. Here goes…

 

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.