Observations Along the Road

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

In the Spirit of This Time of Year… Something Jewish…

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Dec 22, 2015 @ 8:23 pm PST

userpic=levysIn the spirit of this time of year, here is the present of some News Chum that has been accumulating the last two weeks. In the spirit of religion of the source of the upcoming holiday, it’s also Jewish. What? You thought Jesus was Christian? Nope. The religion was created by his followers. Let’s dig in:

  • Let’s Go Shopping. A little late, but the news brings the report of the death of Lillian Vernon, Catalog Queen. Lillian Vernon (born Lilian Menasche) was the daughter of Jewish Germans who fled to Amsterdam during the rise of the Nazis in 1933, immigrated to New York in 1937. She attended NYU, but left after two years to marry the owner of a dry goods story in Mount Vernon, NY. With $2000 of their wedding money, Vernon, who was also pregnant, decided to start “a mail-order business on her yellow Formica kitchen table,” reported The New York Times. “With the help of her father, who by then was in the leather goods business, she advertised a personalized leather handbag for $2.99 plus tax—and a matching belt for $1.99—in the September issue of Seventeen magazine. The ad generated $32,000 in orders, and the Lillian Vernon brand was born.”
  • Interfaith Cooperation. Thus reporteth NPR: A mosque, a church and a synagogue go up on the site of an old Jewish country club …It sounds like the setup to a joke — but it’s not. It’s actually happening in Omaha, Neb. The Tri-Faith Initiative may be the first place in history where these three monotheistic faiths have built together, on purpose, with the intention of working together.
  • And On The Other Side… The Jewish Journal is reporting: The Jews for Jesus organization has denounced the Vatican for saying the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity. David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said in a statement that his organization finds the position “… egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.” Translation: Jews for Jesus is a group whose specific aim is to pull people away from Judaism, so that they can be saved in Christ. Why is it wrong when Islam does it, but right for Christianity?
  • Jewish Fusion Cuisine. Quoth Haaretz: In Los Angeles, we’re seeing dishes like pastrami quesadillas at fast food Mexican spot J&S.  In Seattle, a food truck called Napkin Friends serves “latke press sandwiches” in decidedly non-kosher varieties like a BLT. In New York and San Francisco, you can order Kung Pao Pastrami at Mission Chinese Food. And El Nosh, a Puerto Rican-Jewish food mash-up that started as a food truck in California, threw a pop-up event in New York as recently as October.
  • Resurgent Yiddish. Earlier in the week, I wrote about my daughter and her work with Yiddish. That article mentioned her trip to Eastern Europe last summer with Helix. It is also impacting the stage, notably the new production of Fiddler on the Roof:
    Adam Kantor, the first in the procession of suitors for Tevye’s daughters, said the research he did last summer visiting where his ancestors are from and where the Tevye stories were written (“I, basically, found Anatevka”) empowered him for the moment when Motel the timid tailor becomes a man and asks for the hand of Tzeitel (the wonderful Alexandra Silber). “Feeling the landscape and learning about the culture of the shtetl and learning about my roots strengthened my performance, I believe. I come from a line of Jewish immigrants who had to fight for their lives to make something of themselves. I just drew from them and what they went through.”

 

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Alternate Realities

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 20, 2015 @ 2:16 pm PST

If / Then (Hollywood Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaFirst and foremost, because I am obligated to clear the misconception: If you go to If/Then – The Musical expecting a musicalization of that seminal work, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” by Edgar Dijkstra, you will be solely disappointed.

Although that would make a cool musical. Especially with Idena Menzel (FB) as Grace Hopper.

So what is If/Then (which we saw last night at the Pantages Theatre (FB) in Hollywood) about, if not programming? Science has a theory that every time anyone makes a decision, the universe splits. Each reality reflects the timeline from the decision point, following what would have happened for each way the decision could have gone. This creates an infinite number of alternate realities, reflecting all possible decisions. Many may be dead and lifeless; many may be almost identical. Each is self contained, with no way to know that the other realities exist.

If/Then shows the path of two of those realities as they apply to the life of Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan, an urban planner recently returned to New York City after the end of her college marriage. Both paths revolve around the interaction of Elizabeth and her friends: Lucas (a college friend and housing activist); Kate (a lesbian kindergarten teacher who lives across the hall from Elizabeth); Stephen (another college friend and an urban planner with the City of New York); and Josh (an Army doctor just returned from a tour of duty, who meets Elizabeth in the park).

In one path (the “Liz” path, so-called because Elizabeth is called “Liz” in this path), Liz follows the advice of Kate: she makes the wild choices. She goes into academia, starts dating the man she just met (Josh), and works to build a family and friends.

In the other path (the “Beth” path), Beth follows the advice of Lucas: she accepts a job doing urban planning for the city, and dedicates her life not to love but to work, moving up the urban planning life, working for Stephen.

In both cases, the “ideal” life goes in an uncertain direction in the second act, concluding with Beth/Liz getting the opportunity to start over. You can find a more detailed summary with the various plot twists over on Wikipedia.

The presentation of the alternate realities keeps intertwining the two timelines: songs often keep going back and forth from one line to the other during the song.  Contrast this with The Last 5 Years, which also has two timelines, but keeps them separate except for one meeting point. How do you keep track of which line you are in?  By what characters are around, their demeanor, and by what Elizabeth is called.

In reading the reviews before the show, I’ve seen critics all over the map regarding the story (an original story by Brian Yorkey) and the music/lyrics (music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey). Some like it; some find it “meh”. I actually enjoyed the story and seeing the multiple lines. If I had one quibble story-wise, it is that the show is far too New York City centric. I understand that to New Yorkers and to those who work on Broadway, New York City is the center of the universe — but it really isn’t. The 33 square miles of Manhattan is just a drop compared to most megalopolises.  The constant dropping of references to New York communities and institutions is confusing to the non-New York audiences, and the New York specific references in the projects provide no meaning or clues to those that know not New York. But the worst part is: none of them are necessary. The story would work just the same in any other major city (with some joke adjustments). This makes the New York attitude come off with a sense of “we’re better and cooler than you” — which will play great on Broadway, but lands with a thud elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.

Modulo the New York aspect, the underlying story I found enjoyable. This is one of those very few musicals that actually had humor that made me laugh. There are great jokes and great lines in this show (none of which I can recall right now, except for a wonderful Yankees / Mets joke), and the leads seemed reasonable, if not perhaps a bit too sitcom-successful. I should also note that I particularly liked the choice to have Elizabeth with a PhD in a technical field — urban planning. This is a wonderful role model for the girls in the audience, and deserves extra applause.

Before I go to the music, an aside about the audience. I’ve commented in the past about a phenomenon I’ll call “audience coloring”: that is, when a show by an African-American author or with African-American theme suddenly changes the complexion of the audience, and the same with other ethnicities. The implication — which I can understand — is that a group previously marginalized in the onstage presentation mix makes a special effort to go to a show that speaks to their experience. But I go to a show to learn about all experiences — and so I would like to see audience diversity for all shows, just as we’re pushing for performer and creative diversity on the stage and in the house. I mention this because there was a “coloring” I hadn’t noticed before at this show: there were significantly more same-sex couples — and visibly out same-sex couples — at this show. When I asked my wife, she felt it was because the show made a conscious effort (if not an over-effort) to portray same-sex and sexually-fluid couples in addition to the main story. I would think so, but it seemed too pushed, too forced. In fact, it is so pushed — and the show is so New York centric — that I wonder how this show will play outside the liberal urban centers (especially in the South and Midwest). I truly look forward to the day that diversity just is there, and the efforts to mirror society diversity aren’t as “in your face” as we’re seeing these days. End the aside. Begin the beguine.

This brings us to the music of the show. Going in, I had heard the album — in fact, I had heard the album with this cast (which is now something rare to get in Los Angeles (ah, for the days when the LACLO usually brought in the Broadway stars)). I had actually liked the music quite a bit — if I look in my iTunes, 60% of the songs are starred as favorites. Some songs are particularly cute — such as “What the Fuck?”; others are very touching. I particularly liked “You Learn to Live Without”, which is a lovely counterpoint to “Who Gave You Permission?” from Ballroom. Both looked at dealing with the aftermath of death: one with acceptance and moving forward, the other with anger. About my only problem with the music was volume — at times, it tended to overpower the voices. I’ll note that the orchestra (credits in a few paragraphs) was conducted by a woman: Carmel Dean [☣] — something you don’t see as much as you should, and kudos to the If/Then team for the selection.
[☣ – Note: Do not go to Dean’s website “carmeldean dot com”– it attempts a drive-by injection of malware. I have contacted the website designers (Roundhouse Designs), and they are working to disinfect the site.]

Music brings us to dance, and dance brings us to cheography. Here, perhaps, is my biggest quibble with the show. Larry Keigwin (FB)’s choreography, assisted by Associate Choreographer Mark Myars (FB), works most of the time. But during many numbers, inexplicably,  there are all these fancy dances going on in the background that seemingly have nothing to do with the story. By doing so, they serve to detract and not enhance the story. I strongly believe that dance in a show must serve the story; it isn’t just there to show of the dancing. Dance can show joy and happiness, love and sorry, in ways that words cannot. But you look in the background in many of the scenes — especially the park scenes early on — and it just makes no sense. Not every musical requires loads of dancing; some are just songs and appropriately rhythmic music. The choreographers here seemed to have forgotten that at points. Marc delaCruz (FB) served as dance captain; it is interesting to note that delaCruz was not the typical swing in the position, but had a significant track (David).

Let’s now turn to the performances. Luckily for many in the West (Denver, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Costa Mesa, Tempe) we get many of the original leads, so I can’t speak to how the new tour leads work. In terms of broad performance, the direction by Michael Greif, assisted by Associate Director David Alpert (FB) and Production Stage Manager Shawn Pennington (FB), worked to keep the distinctions between the multiple timelines clear. I didn’t see an obviously heavy directoral hand, and the movements and emotions seemed to fit the characters well (including, except for the odd dancing, the reactions of the ensemble to the main characters).  I’ll note that Greif has worked with Menzel quite a bit, so the quality of their closeness came out in the seamlessness of the performances.

In terms of individual performances, we begin with Idena Menzel (FB). She clearly brought a younger audience to the show; you should hear the reaction when she came out on stage. She has an energy and a connection to this character that comes across to the audience. I personally feel that she relates to the character and the notion of decisions that can shape one’s life: she’s coming out of a long marriage to Taye Diggs (FB), she’s had her life reshaped by her decisions on Frozen, and she probably is regularly thinking about how her decisions have lead her on this path. She gives a great — indeed, remarkable performance as Elizabeth/ Beth / Liz. Very realistic. Very natural. Some critics have commented on her voice; that didn’t bother me (I like distinctive voices). However, she did suffer from the New York centric focus of the show — the words in the songs often came too fast, making them difficult to follow. This won’t bother the New York audiences at all — New Yawkers talk fast and live fast. But out in the tour world, the story may be a little different. It will be interesting to see how Jackie Burns (FB) modifies the performance once Idena leaves — in particular, will she slightly slow things down to increase understandability.

In the next tier, we have the “best friends”: Kate (LaChanze (FB)) and Lucas (Anthony Rapp (FB)). LaChanze was delight to finally see — I’ve loved her voice since I first heard it on Once on this Island. She, too, brought a realize and naturalness to her character that was great; she clearly enjoyed this role. Similarly with Rapp — he came across as comfortable as Lucas, and had a nice interplay with Menzel. Both had wonderful singing voices.

Also in this tier were the love interests of various forms: James Snyder (FB) as Josh and Daren A. Herbert (FB) as Stephen. We’ve seen Snyder before on the LA stages in Dangerous Beauty. We loved his voice and performance then, and we love it still. He just has a very charming stage presence that makes him instantly likable, which combines with his great voice to give a powerhouse performance. My only complaint is that his album should also have been for sale.  Herbert was new to us, but also gave a good performance as Stephen. You could see him as a New York urban planner.

Rounding out the love interests of the secondary characters were Janine DiVita (FB) as Anne, Kate’s love interest (and U/S Elizabeth); Marc delaCruz (FB) as David, the love interest to Lucas in one track (and dance captain); and Kyra Faith (FB) as Elena.  DiVita gave a spirited performance as Anne — she mostly was in the background in Act I, but shone in Act II. I did enjoy Faith’s performance. She stands out in the ensemble and other numbers due to a unique height and look, and she has a great interaction with Menzel.

Rounding out the cast in smaller and ensemble positions were: English Bernhardt (FB) (Paulette and others); Xavier Cano (FB) (A Soldier and others; u/s David); Corey Greenan (FB) (Deputy Mayor, An Architect, and others; u/s Josh, Stephen); Cliffton Hall (FB) (A Bartender and others; u/s Lucas); Deedee Magno Hall (FB) (Cathy and others; u/s Elizabeth, Kate); Tyler McGee (FB) (A Street Musician and others; u/s Josh); and Alicia Taylor Tomasko (FB) (A Flight Attendant and others). Swings were Charissa Bertels (FB) (Swing; u/s Kate, Anne); Trey Ellett (FB) (Swing; u/s Lucas, David); Joseph Morales (FB) (Swing); and Emily Rogers (FB) (Swing; u/s Anne). This cast has a large number of double-understudies for some reason. Standouts in this group were McGee’s street musician (who I noticed playing his guitar). The group danced well, but note my previous comment on the choreography problems (which isn’t the fault of the performance, who executed the moves beautifully, but perhaps mechanically).

The last performance aspect is music. As noted earlier, the music was by Tom Kitt, who did his usual rockish score. Orchestrations were by Michael Starobin (FB). I found both the music and how it was orchestrated quite good. Rounding out the lead music credits were: Carmel Dean [Music Director]; Annmarie Milazzo [Vocal Arrangements]; Michael Keller [Music Coordinator]; Michael Aarons [Associate Music Coordinator]. The orchestra was conducted by Carmel Dean, assisted by Associate Conductor Kyle Norris (FB), and Assistant Conductor Dan Bailey (FB) [who was also Keyboard 1]. The remainder of the touring musicians were Hidayat Honari (FB) [Guitar] and Jay Mack (FB) [Drums]. These were augmented by LA local musicians Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Susan Chatman [Concertmaster]; Jessica Van Velzen (FB) [Viola]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Trey Henry [Bass / Electric Bass]; Dick Mitchell [Alto Sax / Flute / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet]; John Yoakum (FB) [Tenor Sax / Clarinet / Oboe / English Horn]; Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet]; Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitars]; David Witham (FB) [Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]. I’ll just note — because you don’t get to see the credits — that Bergeron is part of one of the best jazz bands around: Gordon Goodson’s Big Phat Band.

Turning to the creative and production credits. The set design by Mark Wendland worked well: there was a turntable (which obviously sat on top of the Pantages stage so they do not have to build it at each venue) and a number of movable open-frame boxes that served as multiple set pieces, combined with a scaffold. All worked well to establish the sense of place and worked well regarding the multiple timelines. They were augmented by projection design of Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully. The projections kept reinforcing the location as “New York” (dummy) through maps and subway lines, which were meaningless to those who did not know the city (like much of LA). They were, however, effective in conveying the appropriate sense of motion for the subway lines and the air travel. The lighting by Kenneth Posner worked well and provided appropriate emotional support for the scenes; I particularly noted the use of red washes near the end. We sat in the Mezzanine this show, and (unfortunately) discovered that Brian Ronan (FB)’s sound design wasn’t as well tuned for people off the ground floor — the sound was muffled a bit. I’m beginning to think the answer for the Pantages, if you are not mid-to-front on the Orchestra level, is to rent the headphone and let the amplification do its job. You’ll be in better shape than dealing with the sound bouncing off of all the rococo design in the Pantages auditorium. The costumes by Emily Rebholz worked reasonably well, although I was unsure about Menzel’s wedding dress in the Act II opener — it was oddly bulky and the zipper was too prominent (c’mon, I saw it from the balcony). The wig and hair desgin by David Brian Brown (FB) worked well and appeared natural; he must have fun trying to control Tyra Faith’s ‘doo :-). Rounding out the production credits are: Telsey+Company (FB) [Casting]; Jake Bell [Technical Supervision]; 321 Theatrical Management [General Management]; Jen Ash (FB) [Stage Manager]; Heather Englander (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]. There were too many producers to list them all, so see here instead.

The If/Then tour (FB) continues in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre (FB) through January 3, 2016; it then decamps off to San Diego, Tempe, Costa Mesa. The original cast folks then depart, and the tour cast continues to Dallas and points midwest and east.  Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office/Ticketmaster; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I enjoyed the show quite a bit; I think you might as well. Just don’t go expecting to learn anything about program.

P.S.: The programmer in me insists on the following:  ENDIF. Of course, if you’re using Algol 68 or Bash, that should be FI. Then perhaps it should be END IF (Ada), unless it is END-IF (Cobol). Now I see why folks use blocks instead.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for for January 16 or January 17 for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB). There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start. This leads to uncertainty about the Group Rep show (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

OK, I’m Bragging Just a Little…

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Dec 15, 2015 @ 5:29 pm PST

userpic=nsshere_2007kvell

verb Slang. extraordinarily pleased; especially, to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family. 2. Berkeley undergrad maps California Yiddish culture with help from Magnes Collection.

Origin of kvell. 1965-70, Americanism; Yiddish kveln קוועלן be delighted; compare Middle High German, German quellen well up, gush.

An Avenue Q Christmas

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 13, 2015 @ 3:18 pm PST

Who Killed Santa? (Theatre 68)userpic=chanukah-christmasPuppets have an interesting place in the panoply of potential actors. Some puppets are clearly designed to tell stories to children — sappy fairy tales with morals, clear distinctions between good and evil, and nary a hint of sex. Often, the intent is for the audience to see the puppets as only the puppet; the underlying puppeteer is invisible. The use of the puppets in adult stories was very limited, and limited to the Flahooleys in Flahooley, the puppets of Carnival, and, umm, well that’s about it.

Then came Avenue Q. Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell an adult story. In fact, Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell a story that might not be possible with human actors. Puppets can offend and say things that a human would never get away with. Avenue Q also showed that it doesn’t make a difference if you can see the human puppeteer, as long as said puppeteer dressed in all black. In fact, seeing the puppeteer had some advantages in that the expressive human’s face could augment the much more limited expressiveness of the puppet face. Oh, and ventriloquism? Thrown out the window.  If you can see the puppeteer, you know these are puppets and there is no reason to throw your voice. Just go with the suspension of disbelief.

Who Killed Santa?, which we saw last night at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) in a production from Theatre 68 (FB), is clearly a product of the Avenue Q vein of puppetry. The main cast of puppet characters (see in the postcard to the right) all have human manipulators that are clearly visible (and are, of course, wearing black). Most of the puppets are hand and rod puppets (think most Muppets or Princeton from Ave. Q); Frosty is a hand and glove or “live hand” puppet (think Sweetums from the Muppets or Nicky from Ave. Q).

Who Killed Santa? is also, clearly, a Christmas show. We’re Jewish. So why would we go see a Christmas show, especially as we had already seen one Christmas show this season already? The answer is, like the previous show, that the synopsis was so warped as to draw us in:

In this hilarious and irreverent send-up, Santa is hosting his annual holiday party attended by the usual holiday favorites: Frosty, Tiny Tim, The Little Drummer Boy, and Rudolph, who all have a bone to pick with Santa. After the introduction of the sexy new Little Drummer Girl, tempers flare, and Santa ends up with a candy cane through the heart. No one will confess, no one can leave, and Christmas is in jeopardy. As the tension builds, a couple of incompetent detectives enter the scene, and all the dirty secrets of these iconic holiday characters are revealed. Eventually, with the help of the audience, the murderer is convicted and sentenced.

So let’s put this together: We have puppets. We have a Christmas-themed murder mystery. We have adult themes and songs. We have no religious content. We have parodies of well-known Christmas songs. Wouldn’t that draw you in? This was either going to be great, or it was going to be a train wreck.

Who Killed Santa? (Production Stills)I’m pleased to say that the train stayed on the track. I am sad to say that I couldn’t get fully into the moment and the humor, but that wasn’t the fault of the show but the fault of the light migraine that chose to manifest itself 15 minutes into the show (after staying away for the entire ACSAC conference). But even with the headache, I found the show very cute and enjoyable, with great song parodies, wonderful performances, and some really good humor.

Playwright Neil Haven (FB) has created a Santa who is very different than the current image of the jolly fat man (which, truthfully, sets people up for unrealistic expectations). Haven’s Santa is one that overworks his elf employees, denies them holiday parties, drinks to excess, and who is interested in keeping his, well, North Pole polished, if you get my drift. This creates adult backstories / interstitials for all of the iconic characters portrayed by the puppets: Frosty, who Santa abuses and refuses to consider a part of Christmas, relegating him to the lesser “Winter” holidays, and who has an unspoken past with Santa; Tiny Tim, who is a virgin — a source of great mirth to Santa; Steve, the drummer boy, who has suffered abuse at the hands of Santa; Rudolph, who also has a drinking problem as well as potential relationship issues; and the newest icon: Chastity, the drummer girl, who was added to bring more female balance to the team, and to whom Santa is hoping to have a relationship that is inappropriate for an old man and a girl. Tim is also interested in such a relationship, which pisses off Santa who sees Tim as competition. All of this, you see, can lead one to murder.

That, of course, is eventually what happens. Santa is stabbed with a candy cane, and through various expositional means, all of the backstories come out. Any of the characters had both motive and opportunity. This leaves it to the elves to decide who is the guilty party.

This brings us to the elves, who are played by… the audience and the tech crew. At the beginning of the show, the two costumed elves — the keyboardist and the light/sound guy — inform the audience that they are elves, and are being oppressed by Santa. At various points in the show, they are led in protest songs (found in the program) and get to hold up picket signs (the last page of the program). They are also excluded from Santa’s holiday party where the action on stage is happening. As a result, the actors on stage periodically wipe the windows clear and made comments about the elven audience … and then turn to the elven audience to decide on the killer and to, in Edwin Drood style, determine which of the potential endings for the show will be used.

In terms of the story, I’d characterize it as a bunch of caricatures thrown together to create a story. In this sense, it is no different than other mashups, such as the movie Rise of the Guardians. The caricatures, however, seem intentionally drawn to turn these sweet characters into adults. The portrayal emphasizes their randiness and adult nature, including adult proclivities and weaknesses. I personally found it reasonably funny, although others might find it a tad overdone. I would guess that one’s reaction would depend on how one viewed the characters in the first place. As I have little connection or emotional resonance with the iconic characters, I’m willing to go with the flow.

The music in the story is primarily a collection of parodies of existing Christmas and holiday music. The nature of the parodies ranges from the extremely well done to the extremely raunchy. Here’s an example from a few pages of the script that I found online:

Frosty the Snow Thing
Is like them plastic dolls.
The kids forgot his ding-a-ling
But he does have three big balls.

Here’s another, to the tune of Carol of the Bells:

Santa is dead.
Blood has been shed.
Evil at work.
Someone’s a jerk.

No one can leave
Cannot believe
One of you guys
Wrought his demise

You should have the idea by now. I found the songs to be cute takes on the original. Will you like them? That depends on whether you’re willing to go along with the parody and the notions in play.

Where does this leave us, at least in terms of the story? I think if you are a person who hold Christmas near and dear, one who cannot laugh at iconic Christmas characters or accept their straying off the narrow path of purity, then this is not the musical play for you. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to go along with iconic characters (including Santa) as raunchy versions of themselves, and for there to be sexual dalliances between iconic Christmas characters (including children) and adults — and, in fact, if you can laugh at that notion — then you’ll love this play.

The performances are hard to judge; it is hard to be spectacular when one hand is covered in felt and foam, the other is manipulating a rod, and the audience may be looking at the puppet’s face instead of yours. Still, there were memorable aspects. As Frosty the Snowman, Jonathan Berenson (FB) (the bulk of Frosty), and Peter Osterweil (FB) (Frosty’s right arm) projected an air of affibility.  They brought a good energy to the role, although given the nature of Frosty, I hesitate to say they were hot (but I’m sure they did a great cold reading… I’m here all week folks, try the fish sandwich). Seriously, I liked their interpretation of Frosty — a bit addled, but clearly annoyed by Santa’s treatment of him.

Jotapé Lockwood (FB)’s portrayal of Steve, the Little Drummer Boy, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the cast. He did a great job of creating the image of Steve — the little drummer boy who now played with heavy metal bands. Then he opens his mouth for the parody of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, and this marvelous operatic voice comes out. I’d love to hear this guy do an opera or a concert — he is that good. Reminded me of Rod Gilfry in the quality of his voice.

Marissa Fennell (FB)’s Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer took the red nose to heart. She vocalized the character as if the red nose was due not only to drinking, but to a very bad head cold. There was this odd nasal quality to the vocal interpretation that I found odd until it was explained to me. As an audience member, I can’t tell if it was her choice or the directors, but I think it was a little strong. Other than that, the character came across fine — a randy drunken buck, potentially interested in other bucks. But as Fats Waller says….

Katie Zeiner‘s Tiny Tim was portrayed with a strong British, if not Cockney, voice and attitude. She conveyed the randiness of Tim appropriately, and limped as she moved the puppet, a nice choice.

Rebecca Rose Phillips (FB) was the newest iconic character, Chastity, the Little Drummer Girl. As Chastity, Phillips brought an interesting sexual energy to the role. Nowhere is this clearer than in her introductory number, a parody of Lady Marmalade,  with a refrain of “Faa-la-la-la Pah-rum pum / Faa-la-la-la-la here / Marshmallow Hot Choc-lat Yum Yum / Norske Goddess Mrs. Claus”

This brings us to the lone actor that portrays all the non-puppet characters: Thomas F. Evans (FB), who is Santa Claus, The Detective, The Tooth Fairy, and Mrs. Claus. Evans’ portrayal of each of these is very different from each other. His Santa Claus is clearly a horny alcoholic letch, although the costuming seemingly interferes with the clearly fake beard (although I understand why they do it). His dectective is suitably bumbling, and I truly do not have strong impressions of his latter two characters (the headache kicked in right around then, and all I can recall is enjoying them, but not the specifics).

The cast was rounded out by Ed Cosico (FB) and Jordan Wall (FB) as the elves.Their main performance role was to stir up the workers (audience) into singing protest songs and to hold protest banners. In their day job, they were the Acocmpanist and the Sound / Light Board operator, respectively.

Who Killed Santa? was directed and produced by Ronnie Marmo (FB), who is also the artistic director of Theatre 68. Marmo recognized this play for what it is: a light fluff of a comedy designed to entertain and then get out of the way. He captured the stereotypes well, if not a bit too much, and cast actors that were able to improves when things went wrong (which often happens in intimate theatre). I did appreciate that he had his actors do the little things, like vocalizing the squeaking you hear when you wipe a misty window dry to look out of it. Marmo was assisted by Heidi Rhodes (FB).

Turning to the production side of things: The set was designed by Danny Cistone (FB), who created a simple Christmasy room that established place and supported the story. What more could you ask for? The puppets were by Libby Letlow (FB), based on the original designs of Dan Katula. Letlow also provided the puppetry coaching. Both were executed well — the actors seems to inhabit and portray the puppet characters handily (see what I did there :-)). The puppets themselves seemed to be well suited for the job, and seemed to characterize their characters appropriately. The lighting by Paul McGee/FB did a suitable job of establishing mood and illuminating the scenes.  Props were by Grace DeWolff, and were cute and effective. The costumes, by MJ Scott/FB, were effective (such as they were). The parenthetical was due to the fact that the only character with a real costume was Santa / The Detective / Tooth Fairy / Mrs. Claus. Those worked, and provided sufficient ability to change. My only complaint was that the Santa beard was just a little too fake. Remaining production credits were: Emily Juliani (FB) – Tech Director / Prop Master; Brian Myers/FB – Music Arrangement; Jotapé Lockwood (FB) – Music Direction; Marissa Fennell (FB) – Publicity Stills (which you can see above); Neil Haven (FB) – Sound Design; Jordan Wall (FB) – Light and Sound Operator; Sandra Kuker PR (FB) – Publicity and Marketing; Sandra McHale – Playbill Design; Amanda Schlicher (FB) – Playbill Design. Who Killed Santa? was originally produced and conceived with puppets in Milwaukee WI by Neil Haven (FB), Bo Johnson (FB), and Dan Katula.

Who Killed Santa? continues at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) until January 2nd, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm, except for Christmas Day. Tickets are available at Plays411. It does not appear to be up on Goldstar; however discount tickets are available on LA Stage Tix, while they last. If you’re looking for an adult-oriented silly fluff of a Christmas play, this one should do nicely.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for for January 16 or January 17 for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB). There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start. This leads to uncertainty about the Group Rep show (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Music: “The Gift”, from The Fortress of Solitude (2015 Original Cast), performed by Kristen Sieh, and the Fortress Ensemble

News Chum Forgotten on the Stove

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 3:26 pm PST

Observation StewThe ACSAC conference is over. I come home after a week commuting back and forth to the hotel, and what do I find? I left the news chum simmering on the stove. Let’s hope it didn’t get burnt or go bad…

 

The Power of Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 3:01 pm PST

The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF 2015)userpic=acsacAs I wrote in the previous post, I just concluded a week as Local Arrangements Chair for the ACSAC conference. Part of my responsibility was to coordinate some form of dinner entertainment. Luckily, the Hollywood Fringe Festival made that easy, for it was there that I discovered The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, the duologue based on a true incident.

Here’s the description of the show from the Fringe website, which is as good as the description I might write: ““Please help me transfer $100 million from Bank of Nigeria!” We’ve all gotten this e-mail. Writer performer Dean Cameron did something about it. After he received an email from a Nigerian con artist posing as the wife and son of a dead Nigerian leader, Cameron replied. Posing as a sexually confused Florida millionaire, whose only companions were his cats, houseboy, and personal attorney, Perry Mason. Cameron embarked on a 11 month correspondence with  the bewildered and tenacious Nigerian, impeccably played by co-star Victor Isaac. This hit duologue, taken from actual email threads, documents the hilarious relationship as it descends into a miasma of misunderstanding, desperation, and deception.”

That is literally the show. Two podiums and a digital projector. Dean Cameron (FB, IMDB) relates the story of how he baited along Nigerian spammers, with the ultimate goal of getting them to send him money. Co-star Victor Isaac (FB) provides the voices of the spammer side, from MRS MARIAM ABACHA to IBRAHIM ABACHA to DR DONALD ABAYOMI. The story itself is pretty much just condensed versions of the actual email dialogue, with hysterical side commentary and the occasional visual.

My purpose here is not to review the show again. Rather, I want to talk about something specific to ACSAC — something that made me learn the stresses a producer faces. What stress? Well, consider that in the audience for this show we had a Nigerian Senator (from the newly elected opposition government), and two representatives from the National Assembly Antimoney Laundering & Cybersecurity Coalition of Nigeria. Yes, it is a real organization. How would they react to this show? Would they find it funny? Would they sue us? What have I done?

So, Dean and Victor do the show. Many people are rolling in laughter (especially Gene Spafford, who wants to now book them for a phishing conference). The Nigerians? Straight-faces. They go up and talk to Dean and Victor after the show. Oh, what we would have given to be a fly on that wall.

It turns out that they were worried the audience would believe the actors were portraying real Nigerian officials, and that people might thing the government was behind the scam. We (including one Nigerian student) worked to convince them it was clear that wasn’t the case. This was a true incident, with the words as written in the emails, that was perpetrated by scammers who are running the good name of Nigeria through the mud.

We also worked to convince them that the best way to fight the problem was with the truth. If you read the linked article from the Nigerian News Service, it noted that the goal of the organization is to align Nigeria with the global initiative against terror financing, cybercrimes, currency trafficking and money laundering. The organization was born out of the realization that huge financial losses through such financial crimes had become a threat to the nation, and that the collaboration with strategic partners, particularly the central bank, was to discuss ways to align foreign exchange operations with international best practices. Lastly, in line with the anti-corruption drive of the president, the coalition aimed to meet the expectations of Nigerians to kick out crimes denting the image of the nation internationally.

The upshot of this is that the Nigerian delegation is interested in presenting a case study next year telling a major technical conference the work that Nigeria is doing to prevent crimes such as this, and other forms of fraud that hurt their country.

Step back now, and look at this in perspective: A show from the Hollywood Fringe Festival, presented at a long standing technical conference, has served to encourage a government to tell the world broadly that the image the world has of them is wrong, and that they want to be in the forefront of fighting this type of crime.

The power of theatre. As Dean says at the end of the show, “mic drop”.

A Dinner Costs How Much?!?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Dec 12, 2015 @ 2:40 pm PST

userpic=acsacFriday, the ACSAC conference ended for 2015. This year (and next year), the conference was in Los Angeles at the beautiful Universal City/Los Angeles Hilton; this meant that on top of my usual Training Chair hat, I was Local Arrangements Chair. That means I was the coordinator for the event: assigning the rooms, picking the dinner entertainment (more on that in the next post), and selecting all the menus. When I first saw the hotel menus, I was shocked at the prices: lunch prices between $40 and $50; and dinner prices even higher. In fact, when I got the end of day survey for the first day at the hotel, I had trouble answering the question: was this a good value for the price? How can you judge, when gallons of coffee are so expensive.

But as the week went on, I grew to understand the prices are so high. In many ways, this is the same reason that the prices are so high in well established and fancy restaurants. And, no, the reason is not “because they can”. The reason is service.

When you go to almost any restaurant, the bulk of the cost of your meal is not the food costs. Food costs, right now, are relatively low. Delivery costs to your location are higher, but even those aren’t the bulk of the cost due to the volume being shipped. The most significant factor in the cost of a meal out is the labor. In fact, the labor is so expensive they increase the size of the portion so you don’t feel guilty paying that price. [And, of course, we’ve all be taught to clear our plates and not waste food, and so you have one reason behind the growth in obesity. In fact, there might be an interesting statistical study in the correlation between the cost of labor, portion size, and obesity in society.]

In a hotel — especially in a hotel that focuses on service such as a ★★★★ hotel — that cost is magnified more so. Everywhere I turned around at the HUC (Hilton Universal City) there was someone from Banquets making sure that all our needs were met, someone from IT making sure the A/V was right, someone from … you get the idea. Who pays for that service? It isn’t room rental — often room rental is gratis if you make a particular number of room nights and a minimum food and beverage. In fact, the answer is in that sentence: it is in the room rates, and the food and beverage costs. A certain amount of labor can be absorbed by the room rates, but the hotel also must be competitive. The bulk of the labor is captured in the F&B costs.

So, let’s go back to the question: is it a good value? We had only compliments on the quality of the food, and the quantity was almost too much (must remember that for next year). Most importantly, there were no complaints about service or the meeting rooms. The hotel staff was there whenever we needed them, often going above and beyond (with no additional charges). So, looking back in retrospect, I think it was a reasonably good value.

(Of course, that still didn’t mean I didn’t wince a little signing the final event orders. Who wouldn’t? But I also now better understood why I was paying what I was paying).

By the way, this is something that the great unwashed public — and even Congress — doesn’t understand. We’ve all read of the DOD acquiring toilet seats that cost $200 each, when they are $10 at the hardware store. We get incensed about the price, without knowing that they have unique manufacturing requirements that prohibit volume manufacturing, that they have documentation and maintenance requirements for their lifetime, and that they have the overhead of the administrative employees at the corporation that manufactures them, which has much lower volume to spread that overhead across when compared to a bulk manufacturer. Similarly, we hear stories of conferences with the $15 muffin or the $45 rubber chicken, and think the government is wasting money. It isn’t: that money goes to all the people employed by the hotel, providing all the service, and spending that money in the community. Yes, there are some conferences with boondoggles, but most food costs are not the boondoggles. Now you understand.

Inspired Lunacy

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 06, 2015 @ 7:47 am PST

El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola (The Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyCircuses are inherently theatrical. Performers adopt larger than life persona in order to entertain. They clown. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They are theatrical, yes. But are they theatre?

That, perhaps, is the question you find you asking yourself after you see the current production, El Grande Circus de Coca Cola at The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank. To me, well, I haven’t seen such inspired lunacy in Burbank since, well, January 2014 when Moonie and Broon were at the Colony. But for others…

El Grande Circus de Coca Cola is, in a sense, a continuation of the story started in El Grande de Coca Cola (which I mean to see when it was at the Ruskin Group Theatre (FB), but (alas) didn’t). The original tells the story of Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, has announced in the local newspaper in that he is going to bring international cabaret to Trujillo. Eventually he succeeds, and we see the cabaret within the cabaret as it unfolds, with all of mistakes — the conjuring tricks that don’t work, the people that trip up, a blind American folk singer who falls off the stage, colliding chorus girls, etc.

El Grande Circus continues the adventures as this troupe sneaks across the border, first to Hollywood, and thence to the Hollywood-adjacent Burbank. The 85-minute, one-act show is a circus performance by Don Pepe (Marcelo Tubert (FB)) and his family: Miguel (Paul Baird (FB)), Maria (Olivia Cristina Delgado (FB)), Consuelo (Lila Dupree (FB)), and Juan (Jesse D. Myers (FB), who replaced Aaron Miller).  The picture to the right shows the original cast (all but the Juan we saw, but he’s the Juan that I want (sorry, couldn’t resist)) at the Skylight (FB), but the production was essentially the same at the Colony).

The show itself consists of circus acts and performances. I was going to say “improvised circus acts”, but this is really more choreographed inspiration, for it takes quite a bit of rehearsal and choreography to make what these folks do on stage come across as improvised. But there is clearly an element of improvisation underlying all of this, for some percentage of the act is playing off the audience, and I get a sense that it changes at every performance. But to give you a sense of what happens in this show, here are some of the scenes we saw:

  • Impersonations
  • Telenovelas
  • Bolshoi Ballet Radioactivo
  • An insanely choreography family picture.
  • A flea circus
  • Ariel Acrobat mishaps
  • A palm-reader act

The entire show is narrated by Tubert’s Pepe Hernandez in a mixture of Spanish and Spanglish. It is understandable to those who do not understand Spanish, but it does takes some work. The show does operate at two levels, which jokes that children will get, and many that have double implications of a more adult nature. The performances are uniformly strong, with Delgado and Dupree out in the audience before the show, playing their characters and flirting with the audience members (especially those producers from over the hill in Hollywood).

The show is inspired; it is indeed a three-ring circus in a low-budget single ring. It is theatrical. But is it theatre?

This, ultimately, is the problem with the show. Artistic director Barbara Beckley works to manage expectations before the show, noting how the originally-scheduled production, Humble Boy, had been in the planning stages for over a year, starting when the theatre was in a strong financial condition. That condition weakened over the year and the costs for Humble Boy proved too high, and so the show needed to be replaced. Barbara found El Grande Circus at the Skylight (FB) in Los Feliz (Hollywood), where it had been getting rave reviews. Moving the show provided the ability to bring an established “hit” to a larger theatre without a lot of expense for dramaturgy, set design, rehearsal, etc. This aspect of the story has been downplayed a bit: the #pro99 community likes to point to El Grande Circus as a shining example of 99-seat moving to paid contracts, but that’s not the reason the show is there. In any case, Barbara lets the regulars know this is a show that was brought in to serve a purpose, and that some subscribers love it, and some hate it.

We enjoyed the show, but we’re odd ducklings of the old theatre audience. The show certainly does not fit the notion of conventional theatre. There really is no character growth. There is no storyline. There is no protagonist or antagonist. There is inspired humor, choreographed improvisation. It is unconventional theatre. We saw audience members around us cracking up in laughter. We saw others totally confused as to what we saw. We also saw loads of younger people in the audience.

The show was enjoyable and fun, and we had a blast seeing it. But was the Colony right in bringing it to their stage? For that question, I’m not sure the answer is “yes”. I think that many of their older subscribers (for, alas, Colony does have an older subscription base) will walk away confused, disappointed that this wasn’t the theatre they were expecting. The younger families and their kids have the other problem — they may love this, and it may make them want to come back to the Colony to see more shows — where they will be disappointed as the Colony returns to its traditional shows, such as the Frank Loesser tuner that is up next. A small percentage of their audience will appreciate why Barbara brought this in, and will be open to the wide variety that theatre can encompass — and will enjoy this for what it is.

Luckily, we’re in that small percentage. We enjoyed Tubert’s Pepe, with his mangled English and Spanish, with his air of sanity in a sane world. We enjoyed the sexy Delgado’s Maria and Dupress’s Consuela: from their flirting with the audience to their performances onstage. We enjoyed Baird’s Miguel and Myers’ Juan (especially in the Ballet scene).

Alan Shearman‘s direction keeps the show moving along, although there were a few points where I wondered how close we were to the end. He did a good job of creating the El Grande characters and personas, and helping the actors inhabit those personas. In a show such as this, that’s really critical, for there is no story to provide the motivation or direction.

On the production side, this was a combination of the normal Colony quality and the elements that made it a success in the much smaller and lower-budget Skylight. The scenic design by John Iacovelli (FB) was simple but effective: big top draping and art that created the image of a worn circus facility. This combined with the properties by Jeff Faeth (FB) to establish the lunacy (such as in the magic act scene, or the aforementioned flea circus). Adding to this were the costumes by Sarah Figoten (FB), which were just… inspired. I particularly enjoyed the adapability of the ladies costumes, as well as the male costumes during the ballet scene. The sound design by Jeff Gardner (FB) worked well, although there were points where there was significant background noise — I don’t know if that was intentional, or someone backstage forgot to turn off their microphone. Jennifer Edwards (FB)’s lighting was effective — particularly the use of the LED lights — in establishing the mood of the situation. Although the show appears improvised, what holds it together is the choreography of Tor Campbell (FB) — nowhere is this more apparent than in the slow-motion replay of the family picture, the Bolshoi Ballet number, or in the voodoo scene. The remaining main production credits are: Christopher Hoffman (FB) [Production Coordinator], Garrett Longley (FB) [Production Stage Manager], Paul Ruddy (FB) [Casting Director]; Rachel Berney Needleman (FB) [Associate Producer]; Gary Grossman (FB) [Producer]. These are all Skylight folks — making clear how this was a production of the Skylight Theatre Company (FB) and Flying Cucumber Productions.

El Grande Circus de Coca Cola continues  at The Colony Theatre (FB) through December 13. Tickets are available through the Colony website; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I found the show very funny, but if you’re looking for a traditional theatrical book-based show, this might not be to your taste.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar), and for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) for January 17 (in case the REP’s delay pushes their first show back to February). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.