Observations Along the Road

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

Weekend Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 21, 2015 @ 2:59 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday — the day I pull down all those URL links that have been seasoning all week, and assemble them together with some potatoes and veggies and make some tasty news chum stew. I hope you’re hungry — we’ve got a lot of twofers in here:



What A Musical Is Supposed To Do

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 21, 2015 @ 9:59 am PDT

The Drowsy Chaperone (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunNear the end of The Drowsy Chaperone, the Man in Chair (who has been the guide throughout the show) notes that, while The Drowsy Chaperone isn’t a perfect show, it does what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world, it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue. Last night, during the CSUN Theatre Arts Department‘s production of Drowsy, this line really hit me. Drowsy Chaperone is really the perfect palate cleanser between the heavy message of last week’s Carrie: The Musical and tonight’s production of Doubt at REP East (FB). Drowsy Chaperone is a musical I love — it is one of the funniest musicals around (especially if you are a regular theatregoer): it makes fun of musical conventions and audiences, and pretty much everything. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and yes — it chases your blues away.

Last night’s show, which was the first of three performances of CSUN students in the Great Hall at VPAC was astounding in many ways. First, it is using the Great Hall as it really should be used — as a venue for live theatre and musicals. The Great Hall is normally concert performances ala the Broad and similar venues, but it works so well for theatre. There had once been talk about doing some CTG programming there but that never happens. Having occasional two weekend shows there would be remarkable. Even better than that, the Great Hall was being used — for the first time — for a student production musical [ETA: Corrected: The music department put on “Carmen”, and there have been instrumental ensemble productions]. If you haven’t discovered CSUN Theatre Arts, you’re missing something. We’ve seen a number of CSUN shows before — Hair back in 2006, Bat Boy in late 2014 — and this department just shines with its talent and quality. Last night was no exception: this production was (at the talent and performance level) equal to — if not better than — the production we saw back in 2008 at the Ahmanson. I’ve heard rumors that CSUN will be doing Urinetown in the fall — yet another production I love. Expect to see that on my schedule.

For those unfamiliar with The Drowsy Chaperone, here’s how I summarized it back in 2008 [I’m all for adaptive reuse]: The Drowsy Chaperone is hard show to describe, although the subtitle actually describes it best: “A Musical Within A Comedy”. As with “Curtains”, Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to musical theatre of yesteryear, told through the eyes of a character named, uhh, “Man In Chair”. To escape from his unspecific sadness, he plays his favorite musical record: The 1928 Gable-Stine Musical “The Drowsy Chaperone”, which comes to life in his living room. That musical is a silly farce about an actress leaving the stage to marry her true love, the producer who doesn’t want her to leave, and the various hijinks that lead to the wedding. After all, this is a 1920’s musical: you really expect a coherent plot? The story exists solely to connect the songs. Anyway, the characters in this musical are the ditsy Mrs. Tottendale (host of the wedding), her butler Underling, the groom Robert Martin, his best man George, the producer Feldzieg and his chorine Kitty, two gangsters, the handsome leading man Adolfo, the bride Janet Van De Graaff, her chaperone, and Trix, the Aviatrix.

The backstory behind this musical is equally interesting. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it, edited a little: The Drowsy Chaperone started in 1997, when Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and several friends created a spoof of old musicals for the stag party of Bob Martin (FB) and Janet van de Graaf (FB). In its first incarnation, there was no Man in Chair, the musical styles ranged from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the jokes were more risqué. It was later reshaped for the Toronto Fringe Festival, when the Man in Chair was added. Following the Fringe staging, there was an expanded production at Toronto’s 160-seat, independent Theatre Passe Muraille in 1999, followed by a full-scale version at Toronto’s 1000-seat Winter Garden Theatre. This caught the eye of more producers, including the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, which led to a 2005 engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, followed by a Broadway opening in 2006.

This show is much more than the story. It is a love letter to musical theatre. From it’s opening line “I hate theatre” — it just telegraphs this message. All the asides by the Man in Chair are commentaries on society, on theatre conventions, on the silliness of the shows from the 1920s through 1940s, on the over-seriousness of the shows today. Theatre audiences are equally skewered by the Man in Chair, as are stereotypes. This is one of the funniest shows — I had forgotten how hilarious it was (and I normally don’t laugh at shows). I should note, if you didn’t know it before, that the show has music and lyrics by the aforementioned Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and book by Bob Martin (FB) and Don McKellar.

This CSUN student production featured professional quality performances. The faculty leadership team — Kari Hayter (FB) (direction and choreography), David Aks (FB) (musical direction), and Christopher M. Albrecht (FB) (associate choreographer) did a great job of shaping these students into a professional team. You couldn’t see the hand of their leadership, but it was evident in the overall quality and movement and joy the actors displayed.

In the lead position was Daniel Bellusci (FB) as the Man in Chair. We should have seen Bellusci before — he’s a product of Nobel Middle School (where our daughter went in the early days of their theatre program) and he was music director for two shows there. Alas, we missed the shows he was in. No big matter. He was perfect last night — infectuous, joyful, and completely in love with what he was doing on stage. I always believe that actors who are comfortable with their roles and who are enjoying their characters telegraph that enjoyment to the audience, and this was no exception. Keep your eye on this young man — both in the show and in his career.

In the lead positions for the show-in-show were Steven Brogan/FB as Robert Martin and Skye Privat (FB) as Janet Van De Graff.  Brogan had the charm and voice to handle his numbers with ease, and he was a delight with his tap dancing in “Cold Feet”. Privat was remarkable as Van De Graff, and was particularly enjoyable in her signature number, “Show Off”. This young lady could belt and dance and act, all the while telegraphing the fun she was having onstage.

There are loads of supporting positions, so let’s do these by couples. First, there is the titlular character, the Drowsy Chaperone, played by Brooke Van Grinsven (FB). I’ve seen Van Grinsven recently in Bard Fiction, and she was even better here. Strong singing, strong movement, strong comedy — and (modulo some microphone problems) belted her way wonderfully through “As We Stumble Along”. The other half of her pair (at least by the time the show ends) is the buffoonish Aldolpho, played by Nick Bruno/FB. Bruno has great comic chops and timing, and handled his number, “I Am Adolpho” with comic aplomb. Our next couple is Mrs. Tottendale and Underling. Mrs. Tottendale, played by Valerie Gould/FB, captured the older, ditsy nature of the character well. She was particularly funny in her spit-take scenes with Underling, , and delightful in the opening number “Fancy Dress” as well as “Love is Always Lovely in the End”. Her foil, Underling (played by Lance Amann/FB), captured the all-knowing puts-up-with-everything servant well, and was strong in his shared numbers with Gould.

This brings us to the gangster side of the equation. As the producer, Mr. Feldzieg, Shad Willingham (FB) had the authority and worry down well, and had good comic timing with his leading ladies and the gangster duo. I had guessed he was older than the other students — I was proven right when the linking for the review showed that he is one of the instructors. Playing off Feldzeig was Amanda Godepski (FB) as Kitty. Godepski was a powerhouse comic and singer in a small package. Lastly, playing the Tall Brothers playing the gangsters impersonating pastry chefs were John Bernos (FB) and Matthew Kesner/FB. These two young men demonstrated good comic timing. All four were strong in their shared number “Toledo Surprise”.

Rounding out the cast, in smaller roles, were Jared Tkocz/FB as George, Khylan Jones (FB) as Trix, and Harrison Seeley/FB as the Super. Tkocz was strong in his number with Brogan, “Cold Feet”, and Jones had a remarkable voice in her main number, “I Do, I Do in the Sky”. The ensemble behind all the numbers consisted of: Evelyn Onyango/FB, Rachael Johnson/FB, Brittany Williams/FB, Jessamyn Arnstein (FB), Alissa Finn/FB, Emily Blanco (FB), Logan Allison/FB, Hyungwoo Jang/FB, Felix Valle/FB, Alexander Cody Phaphol (FB), Robert Collins/FB, and Harrison Seeley/FB.

Music was provided by the Drowsy Chaperone Orchestra, under the direction of David Aks (FB). The orchestra consisted of Justin Yun/FB, Jeff Brown/FB, James Walker/FB, Alec Olson/FB on Reeds; Garek Najita/FB, Michael Guttierez/FB, and Nolan Markey/FB on Trumpet, Ryan Ruder/FB on Trombone, Peter Shannon on Piano, Lindsay Aldana/FB on Synthesizer, Mary Duffy/FB on Bass, Eli McDonald/FB on Drums, and Lindsay Eastham/FB on Percussion.

Turning to the technical side. The sound design was by Michael Zeigler was generally clear and crisp, however a few actors had microphone problems, and I’m not sure the spit take did the equipment any good. The lighting design by Nick McCord created the mood without intruding. The scenic design of François-Pierre Couture was nothing like the 2008 Ahmanson design with people coming out of refrigerators and beds opening up. The apartment set was realistic and worked; the remainder of the set was mostly scaffolding and stairs, combined with some very effective projections. Costumes were by Elizabeth A. Cox and were extremely effective. Geoffrey Stirling/FB was the stage manager.

The Drowsy Chaperone at CSUN has two more performances: tonight at 7:30 pm, and tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Tickets should be available at the on-site box office, as well as by calling 818/677-2488. Go see it. You’ll be astounded.

Pro99 - Vote No NowOur theatre stars of tomorrow get their starts in college productions such as The Drowsy Chaperone. The subsequently hone their skills working alongside AEA actors in Los Angeles’ wonderful 99 seat and under theatre scene. Their ability to do so is seriously threatened by the recent AEA proposal that would require most 99 seat and under theatres to pay minimum wage (along with the concurrent employer taxes and pension benefits and union fees) to AEA actors for fixed minimum rehearsal times and performance times. This would force many theaters to go non-union (because they are already losing money as is), and would derive new actors from the learning experience. KEEP LOS ANGELES INTIMATE THEATRES ALIVE AND VIBRANT. If you are an AEA actor, vote “No” on the proposal when you see it. If you are activist, join the march on AEA Western HQ on Monday, 3/23. Find out more information at http://www.ilove99.org/.

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

Upcoming Shows: Tonight brings “Doubt” at REP East (FB). March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things (including our annual drum corps show). 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.

My Father: A Remembrance (2015)

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Mar 19, 2015 @ 2:24 pm PDT


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 93. 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; Uncle Herbert can (and perhaps he will reply to this post and do so). 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 Bessies 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. I’m going to have 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. 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.

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.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesP.S. In the above, you’ll note that my father introduced me to theatre back in 1972 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. I don’t know if he ever went to 99 seat theatre when he was alive; I think he was out of theatre mode other than dinner theatre by the time of the 99-seat explosion. But I think he would have loved the small theatre for the closeness and being with the actors. Whereas the big shows were affordable back in the 1970s, they aren’t now. 99 seat theatre is needed to grow new audiences. You can read my full thoughts on that here, but for now — AEA members, please vote down the 99 seat proposal from AEA. We need change, but not this change.

Understanding Your Customer

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 17, 2015 @ 11:38 am PDT

Pro99 - Vote No Nowuserpic=theatre_musicalsOne of the most important adages on the Internet is: “If you are using a website for free, you are not the customer… you are the product being sold.” The emphasis here is on understanding who the customer really is. If you are going to sell a product — and create a business selling a product — you must know who your customers are (and ensure you will get more). I’m bringing this up because (a) it is lunchtime (when I can write about ideas), (b) two articles came across my RSS feeds that put the brain in motion, and (c) I’ve got the whole 99 seat discussions that have been going on in my mind. As you know, I’ve been very involved in those discussions, and have been trying to bring the audience viewpoint to them.

The first article was actually a line in a piece by Jay McAdams of 24th Street Theatre on Bitter Lemons: “If you’d of asked anybody in the theatre community last spring what the biggest problem facing 99-seat theatre was, almost everyone would have said lack of audience. Most would have pointed out the need for some sort of large scale marketing campaign to let the world know what LA theatre artists have long professed; that LA is indeed a theatre town.”

The second article was a much more detailed piece by Ken Davenport over at the Producers Perspective that explored the demographics of the Broadway touring audience. This article noted statistics such as:

  • The average age of the Touring Broadway theatregoer was 53 years.
  • Ninety-two percent of Touring Broadway theatregoers were Caucasian.
  • Seventy-six percent of the audience held a college degree and 34% held a graduate degree.
  • Forty-nine percent of national theatregoers reported an annual household income of more than $100,000, compared to only 22% of Americans overall.
  • Women continued to be more likely than men to make the decision to purchase theatre tickets.
  • The most commonly cited sources for show selection (other than being part of the subscription) were: the music, personal recommendation, Tony Awards and articles written about the show.
  • Sixty-two percent of the audience said that some kind of incentive would encourage them to attend theatre more frequently, such as discounts or special perks.
  • Nearly three quarters of respondents said they used Facebook.
  • Theatregoers said that the most effective type of advertising was an email from the show or presenter.

In Los Angeles, this equates to the audience you would find at the Pantages or the Ahmanson. I subscribe at the Colony, and in the past have subscribed at the Pasadena Playhouse. When I go there, what do I see? Again — an older, caucasian, wealthier audience. We feel young — and we’re 55! Even when I go to Cabrillo Music Theatre — a regional house — what do I see: an older audience. I’d even be willing to bet you’ll find similar audiences if you look at regional community theatres that do similar programming: Glendale Center Theatre, Canyon Theatre Guild, etc.

I’ll scream the point of the above: IF OUR AUDIENCE REMAINS OLD AND WHITE, THE FUTURE OF THEATRE IS BLEAK. Don’t believe me? Where is the audience for full opera today?

On the other hand, I subscribe at Repertory East Playhouse, an 81 seat theatre in Newhall that falls on the intimate scale. The audience I see there has a broader mix: young adults (in their 20s-40s). I go to theatres in NoHo and Hollywood and West LA. Again, a much younger — and much more diverse audience. Here’s the message to shout regarding this: INTIMATE THEATRE DRAWS A YOUNGER AUDIENCE DUE TO PRICE AND EDGIER SHOWS.

Now, to bring everything together as lunchtime is coming to a close (and I need to present in under an hour): What will be the impact if the AEA proposal passes? (1) Ticket prices will go up and discounts will go away as theatres have to cover the additional costs of AEA actors, (b) edgier shows will be eschewed in favor of safer fare that will bring in paying audiences; and (c) those safe audiences will be wealther and courted to provide increased donations to cover increased costs. A vicious circle will be created and… let me shout the net effect: WE WILL GIVE UP CREATING NEW AUDIENCES FOR LIVE THEATRE IN FAVOR OF THE WEALTHY, NEARLY DEAD AUDIENCE.

Just a little salad left: The conclusion of this is that AEA is shooting itself in the foot: By destroying the potential of the new audience, 20-30 years down the road, there will be no one to pay to see AEA actors in large AEA shows. So not only is an approach like the 99 seat plan (which does need updating) an incubator for authors, designers, and actors, it is an incubator for new audiences.

Remember folks: without an audience, actors are simply bloggers in the wind.

What Does It Cost To Be Kind?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 15, 2015 @ 11:29 am PDT

Carrie The Musical (La Mirada)userpic=theatre_ticketsI was going to title this post “Oh, The Horror”, but the title I chose (from a line in the closing song, “Epilogue”) really fits the point of this show, and its evolution, much much better. Oh, right. Start at the beginning. What do I know about that night at the gymnasium…

Mention the name “Carrie” to a Cybersecurity Specialist, and they probably think of Carrie Gates, a past-conference chair at ACSAC. But mention “Carrie” to most people, and they think of the 1976 Brian DePalma film version of 1974 Stephen King novel, starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Mention “Carrie” to a theatre person, however, and they think of one of the most notorious flops in history: the 1988 Broadway production of “Carrie: The Musical”. There were many reasons it flopped: primarily, the cost; secondarily, the execution was overblown and over-stylized; thirdly, the audience came expecting to be scared, but the horror they got was something else entirely. But the show did receive standing ovations, and certainly stuck in the memory. I think there was an additional reason for the failure: society wasn’t ready for it, just as they weren’t ready for the cynicism of Chicago: The Musical in the mid-1970s, or they wouldn’t have been receptive to many gay-themed musicals in the 1950s.

But it is the 21st century. A major notion in the news is the outsider on campus, the ostracized person for whom a history of bullying and exclusion has led to a horrific revenge. School shootings are in the news. Cyberbullying. We’ve learned to clamp down hard on bullying and bullys and harassment. Look no further than a recent post I shared on Facebook about a boy who snapped a girl’s bra strap, and got called on his sexual harassment. Over 350 shares. This has impacted the story of Carrie White — it is no longer a horror story. Other than the telekenesis, it is far too common of a story. We’ve become inured to the horror of the aftereffects of bullying — and Carrie is viewed in a new light. It is a story about the impact of bullying, and the closing question “I could say, “Thank God that’s not me” / But what does it cost to be kind? obtains a new meaning. What does it cost to be kind? What is the real cost of bullying?

This change of view led to a revival of Carrie. In 2010, the original composers of Carrie Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (FB) (the folks behind Fame) — and the book author — Lawrence D. Cohen — reworked the story and the songs, and in 2012, a reworked version of Carrie ran for one month off Broadway to much better reviews. This led to the version of Carrie I saw on stage last night (which, I must make clear, was the 2nd preview — official opening is next week). Director Brady Schwind, who had done excellent work at the Neighborhood Playhouse (where we saw great productions of both Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Parade) envisioned an “immersive” production of Carrie. He worked with Transfer and with the La Mirada Theatre. What does “immersive” mean? None of the regular La Mirada seating was used. None. The audience was sat on stage in high school ish bleachers, and those in the lower bleachers had them moved to follow the cast. All action was on stage, which was decked out as the high school gym, with additional space obtained by extending the stage over the first few rows of the normal audience seating. This cut the seating to 230 people, broken down (yes) into Senior, Junior, Sophmore, and Freshman classes (based on seating).

There may be those of you out there unfamiliar with the story of Carrie. Carrie White is a 17 year old high school senior in Maine who has never fit in. Her mom is a fundamentalist Christian, and Carrie and her mother live alone. When Carrie has her first period during the showers in gym, the rest of the girls tease and taunt her. In her angry response, Carrie discovers burgeoning telekenetic powers. As the teasing continues, the powers develop. One girl, Sue, starts to tire of the taunting and starts to make overtures of friendship… but it rebuffed. The gym coach also tries to make up for the incident, and asks all the girls to apologize. The leader of the bullies, Chris, refuses … and is denied the ability to go to prom. She vows revenge. Meanwhile, to make things up to Carrie, Sue asks her boyfriend Tommy to ask Carrie to the prom. He does, and Carrie starts to see herself as normal. She surprises everyone with her beauty at the prom, but Chris gets her revenge by having Carrie and Tommy elected prom queen and king. During the ceremony, she dumps pig blood on Carrie… and the carnage begins. Carrie traps the students, kills them in gory ways, sets the school on fire. She returns home to the comfort of her mother…. who stabs her. In return, Carrie kills her mother. Only Sue is left.

Doesn’t this sound like a Shakespearean tragedy. Is Titus Andronicus any worse? The Shakespearean approach was the approach taken for the original production — and it failed. Turned into a realistic approach (as was done in 2012 and this production) the focus was clearly bullying. You could see the audience during the show seeing themselves in Carrie White, and understanding her desire for revenge on the bullies. We have all felt it. We have all been there. [and we all need to remember that and stop it — Operation Respect is a great place to start]

The changes in society and our willingness to see bullying — and, as the show sings, “And now I know, that once you see you can’t unsee” — combined with the rework on the show have turned Carrie: The Musical around. The story now resonates, and the music that wasn’t accepted in the 1990s works now. You walk out touched by the story and humming the melodies. The story and the music are Broadway-quality; but story requires intimacy to make its impact. A flop no more.

Let’s turn to the immersive staging. Does it work? Again I’ll note that I was at the 2nd preview — there are still kinks that need to be worked out, and they may be corrected before opening. Luckily, I think the kinks are all technical. First and foremost is the sound. The stage is not tuned to provide audience sound; smaller speakers are used that reduce sound quality. Although the leads sounded good (I think this is because their voices overpowered the speakers), the ensemble sounded tinny and limited — I don’t know how to describe it, but it wasn’t full and frequencies were cut off. This could be microphones; it could be speakers; it could be acoustics. It was strongly noticeable for us sophomores in Seating C; it was probably less of a problem for the Seniors and Juniors. I will say that the subwoofers under the seats helped you really feel the music.

A second problem was the seating. The nature of it made loading the stage slow, with lots of narrow pathways and stairs to climb. It was also uncomfortable, with narrow benches and seat cushions. It was worse than the Rose Bowl’s old seats. I’m not sure that they can do much about this. I’ll also note that you don’t receive your program until after the show (so people don’t drop them leading to slips onstage), so you don’t even know running time or songs or actors.

A last problem was with the music — not with the notes themselves or the musicians, but with the quality of the music. The nature of the stage and where the musicians were positioned meant that the speaker problem affected the music as well and gave it (at times) a pre-recorded quality. Adjustment of the speakers and acoustics, if possible, would help. Again — these didn’t make the show bad, but distracted this audience member’s attention from the show itself.

Those are the problems, which are tolerable and correctable. The good was really good — and by this I mean the performances that director Brady Schwind (FB) worked with the actors to create, and the realistic and clever movement driven by choreographer Lee Martino (FB). The creative use of the space, the interaction with the audiences, the complete rethinking of the performance and song and dance and staging was mesmerizing. It didn’t bring the horror to you as the promotions have been claiming, but it did make you part of the story and created the “I was there” feeling.

In the lead positions for this show were Southern California favorite Misty Cotton (FB) as Margaret White and Emily Lopez (FB) as Carrie White. Cotton’s role was smaller, but her intensity made up for it in every scene she was in. Lopez captured the ostracized outsider well, while still capturing that innocence that Carrie requires. She made you feel for her. Both had voices that were capable of making up for the speaker problems — you didn’t realize those problems when these two were singing. And oh, could they sing. They were just beautiful in their songs.  Notable performances were Lopez’s titlular number “Carrie” and her “Why Not Me?”, and her performance with Cotton in “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance”. Cotton was a powerhouse in “When There’s No One” in the second act. Great, great performances.

Next we turn to Kayla Parker (FB) as Sue and Jon Robert Hall (FB) as Tommy. These were the two characters who tried, perhaps too late, to see the good in Carrie. Both gave touching and believable performances and sang beautifully — again, they had the voices to overcome the problems with the speakers. Especially touching was Parker’s “Once You See” and Halls’ “Dreamer in Disguise”. I’d also include Jenelle Lynn Randall (FB)’s Miss Gardner in this tier — she was great as the gym teaching and very touching in her interactions with Lopez’s Carrie — especially her duet “Unsuspecting Hearts”

Also in this tier was our primary antagonist and her boy-toy: Valerie Rose Curiel (FB) as Chris and Garrett Marshall/FB as Billy.  Curiel was powerful, especially in her number “The World According to Chris” (although she had some microphone problems that will hopefully be corrected). Marshall worked well as Billy, and gave off the correct aura of unthinking bully.

Rounding out the cast in the smaller named roles/ensemble-ish (in that you never really got to know the characters) were Bryan Dobson (FB) (Mr. Stephens/Reverend Bliss), Michael Starr (FB) (George, u/s Tommy), Adante Carter (FB) (Dale), Ian Littleworth (FB) (Freddy), Kimberly Ann Steele (FB) (Helen), Rachel Farr (FB) (Norma), Teya Patt (FB) (Frieda), Carly Bracco (FB) (Tina, u/s Sue and Chris), Lyle Colby Mackston (FB) (Jackie, u/s Billy), Kevin Patrick Doherty (FB) (Brent), Chris Meissner (FB) (Vic), and Amy Segal/FB (Ruth, u/s Carrie). I particularly remember the performance of Patt as she caught my eye with her movement and energy. Farr was also notable as Norma.

Music was under the supervision of Adam Wachter (FB). Brian P. Kennedy (FB) was the music director and conductor, and led the off-stage 7 piece band consisting of Kennedy and Mike Greenwood on Keyboard, Justin Smith and Mike Abraham on various guitars, John Krovoza on cello, Nate Light on various bass, and Eric Heinly on drums and percussion. The music was very good, although the fullness of the orchestra’s sound was hindered by their positioning and the speakers. This may just be an uncorrectable artifact of the staging. As noted earlier, the creative choreography was by Lee Martino (FB), with flying choreographed by Paul Rubin (FB). I’ve previously noted how the movement used the space well and was clever and creative; the flying augmented this well in a number of places, especially the final flying sequences. Carly Bracco (FB) was the dance captain.

Turning to the technical. I’ve previously noted the problems with the sound, which was designed by the omnipresent Cricket S. Myers (FB). Some elements worked well — the subwoofers under the seats, the background sound effects, the surround nature of the sound. Others didn’t, and I couldn’t tell if the problems were something correctable in the transition from preview to opening, or were endemic to the staging. Talking to the sound board operator at intermission, some of the problems may have been microphone related or due to the aiming of the speakers; I’d also believe that other problems are due to speaker size/quality and the poor acoustics onstage (as the space wasn’t designed for audiences). Luckily, the distracting nature of the sound starts to fade into the background as the show goes on.

The lighting and projection design of Brian Gale was very strong, especially considering the nature of the space and some of the uncorrectable distractions (backstage lighting for actor movement; catwalk lights). There was extensive use of movers and what I’m guessing were LED lekos (as they changed colors but looked like lekos). Stephen Gifford (FB) did the scenic design, and it was a very creative use of the space — ranging from the movable bleachers to the extension into the La Mirada audience area for the prom to the use of scaffolding — all worked well Jim Steinmeyer provided the illusion design, which effectively created the belief that Carrie had telekenesis. The costume design of Adriana Lambarri and the hair/wig design of Katie McCoy worked well together to create believable high school students. I should note that this production appeared to update the year to the present; the costumes certainly weren’t 1970s. Property design was by Terry Hanrahan. A few additional technical notes before I move into the remaining credits: The shower scenes were effectively created through the use of what appeared to be misters; note there there is brief nudity on the part of Ms. Lopez that is mostly not visible to much of the audience. Also effective was the blood drop — I was expecting them to do this with lights, so when the theatrical blood came down it was very effective. Note that this is not Evil Dead: The Musical — you don’t need to worry about a spash zone.

Remaining credits: Michael Donovan (Casting Director); Christopher Adams-Cohen (FB) (Assistant Director); O&M Co. and David Elzer/Demand PR (Press); Buck Mason (FB) (General Manager); David Cruise (Technical Director); Jess Manning (Assistant Stage Manager); Heidi Westrom (Production Stage Manager). Most interesting credit: Blood products sponsored and supplied by Alcone CompanyCarrie The Musical was produced by La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB), Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, and The Transfer Group, with a whole list of associate producers.

Carrie: The Musical (FB) continues at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) through April 5, 2015. Tickets are available through the Carrie website or by calling the La Mirada box office at (562) 944-9801. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix. Don’t be scared off by the original “horror” nature of the story or the original “flop”. This is well worth seeing.

Pro99 - Vote No NowThe director of this show, Brady Schwind (FB), got his start at the Neighborhood Playhouse in Palos Verdes. The Neighborhood Playhouse was a 99 seat and under venue, and put on remarkably creative stagings — stagings that would not exist without the financial freedom that the 99 seat plan created. This experience permitted Schwind to move up to this larger staging of Carrie using the same team — a larger staging that employed a number of Equity actors and other union actors on full contracts. This is common for 99 seat productions — numerous productions have moved from the intimate to larger theatres and union contracts. 99 seat theatre is vital to the creative community of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles is a unique creative market. Unlike other cities, Los Angeles actors can make their living wage in TV and film, and exercise their creative muscle for spiritual health on the intimate stage. AEA plans to implement a proposal that will eliminate the availability of the 99 seat plan. Details on the proposal, and the almost unified opposition to the proposal from the LA acting community, as well as those who support that community, may be found at ilove99.org (FB). As a regular theatregoer in Los Angeles, I urge AEA actors who can to vote down this proposal. Voting “yes” communicates the message that you like this proposal. Voting “No” indicates that this proposal is not acceptable, and permits AEA to work with The Producers League of Los Angeles – Intimate (FB), the LA Stage Alliance , and other creatives to develop a tiered system acceptable to all stakeholders. Again, I urge AEA actors to vote no.

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

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend brings two shows:  “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21. March concludes with “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things (including our annual drum corps show). 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 News Chum Stew: Mostly About Food

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 14, 2015 @ 10:21 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and you know what that means: Time to clear all the old and rubbery links out of the bookmarks and cook them up into a tasty stew. So lift up your heads from the I Love 99 debate for a bit, and have a little stew. In fact, looking at the links, this week’s post is quite food-centric:

Here’s one last item, which I won’t put in the bullets because it doesn’t fit the theme: 23 notoriously unrhymable words that have rhymes.

P.S.: We always celebrate π. Can’t we give e a little love as well? All this love of π is just a little irrational to me.

Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Ahmanson Theatre 2015-2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 09, 2015 @ 4:00 pm PDT

userpic=ahmansonThe Ahmanson Theatre has just announced its 2015-2016 season. As I did with the Pantages, Cabrillo, and the Colony, here are my thoughts on the season:

  • Thumbs Down The Sound of Music. September 20 through October 31, 2015. This is the start of a new American tour, but I have really no interest in seeing this again.
  • Thumbs Up The Bridges of Madison County. December 8, 2015, through January 17, 2016. This is a new musical by Jason Robert Brown, and guess what… he will be conducting the entire run!
  • Thumbs Up A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. March 22 through May 1, 2016. This musical won the Tony for best musical (last year, IIRC), and is a must see.
  • Thumbs Up Titanic: The Musical. May 14 through June 26, 2016. Note that this is not the musical version of the Leonard DiCapro movie that won awards; this is a musical from about the same time (1997) with book by Peter Stone and score by Maury Yeston.  I’ve heard the music, but never seen it.

There is an unnamed fifth production to run at an unspecified date.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesP.S.: Please remember, if you’re an AEA actor eligible to vote in the upcoming advisory vote on the 99 seat plan, please vote no. The 99 seat plan needs to be changed, but not in the way AEA is proposing. AEA’s proposal is bad for small theatre, bad for actors who are not exclusively live theatre (hint: it will likely lower your unemployment benefits), bad for the local economy, and bad for the audience. Voting YES means you want AEA’s plan as it is proposed; there is no guarantee they will fix it. Voting NO indicates you do not want their specific proposal, you want AEA to sit down with all stakeholders and craft a plan good for all. Visit ilove99.org for more information. Provide financial support to this effort through I Love 99’s Indiegogo page.

Adequate Compensation is in the Eye of the Beholder

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 07, 2015 @ 9:22 am PDT

Pro99 - Vote No Nowuserpic=dramamasksOver the last few weeks, my attention has been caught up in a brewing battle here in Los Angeles: the battle between Equity Actors and their union, AEA. Now I’m not an actor, but I am an audience; as such, I have a stake in this battle (although we audience members are oft forgotten and taken for granted… this is grating on me and I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do on that. More in a subsequent post.) The battle is a nasty one — and one that outsiders won’t understand.

The world of creatives is not the real world. Nowhere is this made clearer than in this battle, where you have the union fighting management for higher wages, and the “employees” fighting the union for the right to earn no salary, just a small stipend. When I present the subject that way, you’re probably thinking the union is on the right side. But you would be wrong, primarily because the creative world is not the normal world.

Consider the life of an actor in Los Angeles. If you are lucky, you earn your living in the TV or movie industry. If you are really lucky, you are acting in front of the camera, likely doing completely unchallenging work such as commercials or sitcoms. If you are ordinarily lucky, you are working behind the camera in an unsung role. If you are typically, you are paying the bills with a non-creative job — working in a traditional job in a traditional workplace. The point is that you are not expecting to earn a living wage on the live theatre stage — there just isn’t the audience in LA to support it.

But there are loads of theatres in LA, you say. Yup, there are. The big ones tend to bring in outside talent, not local actors. The small ones often exist not to make money, but to provide a place for actors to hone and exercise the acting muscle — just like you exercise at the gym. With more use it gets better and stronger.  An interesting aspect to that analogy: you pay the gym to work out; the gym doesn’t pay you.

Actors in 99 seat theatre haven’t been compensated through salary. They have been compensated through the work, and through the connections they have made in the industry. Often those are more valuable than the $300 that might be earned.

Actors Equity (AEA) wants to change that. They want to mandate that most non-profit theatres pay minimum wage to actors, treat them as employees (with all the employee overhead), and have formal contracts with AEA that include compensation to the union for their services. This would increase that cost of theatres already operating on a slim margin, and put many out of business. Yes, a theatre may raise a lot of money. Much of that goes to rent, insurance, equipment rental, operating costs, and outreach to the community. It doesn’t go to salaries — no one is becoming rich on 99 seat theatre.

The actors want to change the current 99 seat plan, but not this way. They want to work with producers, other creatives, and equity to create a realistic plan that will work, and is likely tiered. A plan that will permit 99-seaters to grow and become equity houses; one that does not impose by fiat.

What’s troublesome is the union tactics. There is intense misreprentation going on. The union says a yes vote is one for a proposal that can be changed, but they have also said the yes is just on this proposal as written. Further, the union has indicated privately that if this passes, they intend to bring the minimum wage fight to New York. The actors are for change, but not this change, and are urging other actors to vote “no”.

Why do I care? I’m an audience member. I can’t vote. I don’t run a theater.

I do, however, buy tickets. I do, however, enjoy the wide variety of shows in Los Angeles. I do, however, enjoy the theatre on the edge that is created here. I do, however, enjoy being able to see both Equity and future Equity actors on stage. I do, however, enjoy being able to critique and provide constructive criticism to them to make them better. I might lose all of that if this passes.

If you are an audience member like me, let your actors know you support them. If they are AEA, educate them and encourage them to vote this proposal down. Write Equity and let them know you don’t approve of their tactics, and that if they continue their tactics, you will be perfectly willing to support, attend, and encourage non-Equity productions in Southern California. Let them know the only party that this action will hurt is AEA — they will lose public support, they will lose members, and people will learn that non-Equity actors can be just as talented as Equity actors. Let them know that Southern California audiences support those who make and act in our 99-seat houses.