Dreams and Denim | “Levi! A New Musical” @ LACC Camino Theatre

I monitor all sorts of theatre related feeds, one of which is the feed of Bruce Kimmel (FB). Kimmel was the guy (literally, the Guy) behind the Lost in Boston series, numerous theatrical record labels including his current Kritzerland, and one of my favorite Off-Broadway musicals, It Came From Planet X. We have seen many of Bruce’s shows — mostly at the LA City College Theatre Academy (FB) — and they have always been enjoyable. When Bruce indicated he was doing a Indiegogo to help mount an new Sherman Bros musical, I was intrigued. The Sherman BrothersRichard M. and Robert B. (who died in 2012) — were the musical team behind many of the Disney musicals and music of the 60s and 70s. This musical had the potential to be very interesting, and so I signed up for the Indiegogo at a level that would get me tickets, and waited for it to be funded so I could schedule a date.

That date turned out to be at a very busy time — as I was getting ready for ACSAC. Given that the show was dark for Thanksgiving weekend, there was only one possible date: the evening before we flew off to Orlando. So guess where we were Friday night, after packing all day? That’s right: we braved the traffic on the 118 and the 101 to get to LA CC for the penultimate performances of Levi!

Levi!, which features a book by Larry Cohen (see also here) and Janelle Webb Cohen, purports to be a biomusical about Levi Strauss. It begins as Levi is coming to America with his friend, August. Levi makes it in but August does. Going to his family in New York, he starts life as a peddler in New York. Soon, gold is discovered in California, and his family sends him to San Francisco to represent the family business there. On the ship, he meets a fellow immigrant, Sarah Zimmerman, with whom he falls in loves. That hope gets destroyed when he learns that she is engages to Aaron Goodman. Levi arrives in San Francisco, losing the girl and most of his dry goods to businessmen who convinced him to sell it to them for 3x the value. All he is left with is worthless blue sailcloth canvas.

That’s Act I. Act II continues the story with Levi going to the mining camp, and while saving some Chinese workers, discovering that the world — especially miners — need strong pants. A fellow miner comes up with the idea to rivet them, and the “Waist Overalls” are born. Soon Levi has factories all over, with his factory in San Francisco employing Chinese workers at the same wages as the white workers. This upsets the classed folk in San Francisco, and there are riots over the Chinese Exclusion Act. Meanwhile, one of the Chinese girls has fallen in love with Levi, but he doesn’t follow up on it. The riots force Levi to send his Chinese workers to Chicago. He never gets the girl, although at the end of the show he does bring over August’s family, whom it is implied will succeed him at the factory.

We walked out of the show thinking it had a lot of promise. It did what a good bio-show should do: It made me want to research the person around whom the story was constructed. It had a great musical and singing, and strong performances. But work was needed. The Chinese immigrant portions of the story had aspects that could be viewed as cultural insensitivity, especially as they were written by non-Chinese folks. A good Asian dramaturg was needed to ensure those aspects were handed with the right sensitivity and accuracy. Some songs were clearly Disney-style; “Opportunity!” could fit into the Carousel of Progress any day. The show was saddled with what I call the Mack and Mabel problem: you want the hero of the story to get their dream family and career, but that is dashed on the rocks of reality. Same problem here: Strauss never got the wife and family he wanted. How do you make that ending upbeat. All of these are book problems — and were probably one reason why after the initial readings of the show many many years ago, it was shelved. But they can be worked out — they were not insurmountable.

Alas, when I got home, I discovered there may be an insurmountable problem that will prevent this story from going on. It certainly soured me on the story aspect (not the performances or the music, mind you). It is a problem I lay solely at the feed of the book writers, one of whom may have had a political agenda.

Simply put: The story itself is 98% fabrication. Based on my research (also here, here, here, here, here, and here) the only true aspects were Strauss immigrating from Bavaria, landing in New York, eventually going west, selling “Waist Overalls”, and never marrying. There is no evidence of a friend named August who tried to come over with Strauss; he actually immigrated with his mother and sisters. Strauss went to Louisville KY to sell dry goods after New York before being sent to San Francisco. Already in San Francisco was his sister Fanny, who moved there from St. Louis. There was no Sarah Zimmerman, nor did her husband Aaron Goodman exist and go on to the US Senate. Levi didn’t invent the Waist Overalls in the gold mining camps, nor did the idea for the rivets come from a fellow miner. Rather, Strauss was already making the pants, and one of his merchandisers, Jacob Davis, came up with the idea for the rivets and sent it to Strauss, and the two patented the idea. There is no evidence of the Chinese workers that I could find, other than Levi Strauss and Company getting into hot water for mistreatment of Chinese workers in the 90s — and that’s the 1990s, not the 1890s of this story.  Strauss ends up not leaving the country to August’s kids, but to the family of his sister Fanny. Further, it appears that in order to obtain any historical photos from the company, they have to vet the story and authorize that it is correct.

So that uplifting book? A fabrication, and one that the Levi Strauss company would likely get upset about would this make it to Broadway. The book, in this form, is DOA. That does’t mean the songs — or at least most of them — couldn’t be salvaged into a realistic story. Some new songs would have to be written, and with half of the musical writing team deceased, that might be difficult. Kimmel could partnership with Richard to complete and rework the songs — he shares writing credits on one song in the show already. But a lot of rework is required to get this show to a Broadway-ready form.

Which is sad, in many ways, because there is so much potential here. The opening number of the show, and the main theme of the show — Opportunity! The Streets are Paved with Gold — captures the immigrant Jewish experience quite well. It captures the promise and the reality. A few other shows have touched upon this — Rags and Ragtime most notably — but it is a great subject to tackle. The story of Strauss’ start in the west is a good one, minus the unnecessary Chinese subplot. But any bio-story needs to be historically correct (or at least 80%), and there just may not be the right protagonist for this story to make it survive for the two acts and all the songs it needs to motivate.

As for the songs themselves: they are (for the most part) enjoyable and peppy, and classic Sherman Brothers songs. This show needs a cast album to preserve the music and these performances. Kimmel has the ability to do so and has done so in the past, and even given my problems with the book, I’d participate in an Indiegogo for that album. Some of the songs are great — especially the opening number and the repeated theme, the “Business is Business” number, the “Pay Dirt” number and its audio choreography. Even the touching ballad that Kimmel helped complete, “So many Empty Rooms”, is really good. A few songs are on the culturally problematic side — “Like a Man” has that problem (as well as the comparisons to Mulan), or “Great American Friend” or “Dream I Must Not Dream”.  Absent those songs, the ones here are great (although perhaps a tad too Disney — and I’m writing this walking distance from Disney Orlando, so I know).  The one other concern I had song-wise was whether this show was too much in the “old-style” musical style of musicals from the 1960s and 1970s. Broadway musicals have seen a seismic shift in how the songs connect with the material (think Hamilton or Dear Even Hansen), and the style here just feels barely old-school.

So, summarizing what we have so far: Book and Music-wise, this show has lots of promise and many wonderful songs. However, there are some structural and content problems at the heart that would require significant rework if this show was to succeed about this this subject, in these days, in a larger venue and lifespan (i.e., a Broadway mounting).

So, setting book aside, how was the execution of the show. Here I’m pleased to say that it was top-notch; something I’ve come to expect and enjoy when Bruce Kimmel (FB) is at the helm as director and  Kay Cole is on-board as Choreographer. This team works well together, and takes the time and care to bring out great performances from the actors. In this case, most of the actors were students at LACC, but you would never know it from the quality of their performances. The choreography was also great — especially in the “Pay Dirt” number. The show was simply enjoyable to watch owning to the hard work of the actors and the directorial and choreographic teams. The actors were having the time of their life on the stage, and it was reflected and amplified by the audience. So kudos to the team for this.

In the lead position was Marc Ginsberg (FB), the sole Equity actor, as Levi Strauss. He was a delight to watch. He had a singing voice that I really enjoyed (particularly in the opening number, “Seven Beautiful Children”, and “Look How It Adds Up”), a great stage presence, a personality that came through in his performance, and just an affable way of relating to the other actors that made the show great. If the show were still running, I’d advise you to go see it just to see his remarkable performance.

Most of the rest of the performers were either students in the LACC Theatre Academy, or alumni of the Theatre Academy. The quality of their performances were remarkable. There are a few sets of named performers, and then I’ll get to the ensemble players.

As Sarah Zimmerman, Rachel Frost (FB) had most of her scenes on the boat between New York and San Francisco, with a few more in San Francisco. She interacted well with Ginsberg’s Strauss, and had some beautiful numbers in “We Know Why”, “Happy Love”, and”So Many Empty Rooms”. She had a lovely singing voice.

The two young kids — Scotty Vibe (FB) [Jacob] and Hadley Belle Miller (FB) [Young Girl] were… cute. But I also noted their performances, and how they played with their characters even when it was clear they were on-stage primarily for the “ahh, cute” factors. They were acting, and they were doing a great job of it.

The Chinese contingent — Tristen Kim (FB) [Han Chow], and his three “wards” Prisca Kim (FB) [Su Lin]; Eliza Kim (FB) [Tim Sang]; and Brianna Saranchock (FB) [Tam Lee, Immigrant, Woman, Miner] — were interesting to watch. Problematic characters in a cultural-sensitivity sense, they had good comic timing in “Like a Man” and the surrounding scene, and Prisca Kim did a delightful job with her solo “The Dream I Must Not Dream”. Note that I was also taken by her performance in Kimmel’s previous LA: Then and Now. The problem with these characters is how to integrate the performance without having it drop into the stereotypical or formulaic.

Jesse Trout (FB) [Howard, Miner, Official] and Connor Clark Pascale (FB) [Stafford] are perhaps the villains of the piece: they underpay Strauss on the boat, and later they to convince him to go against his Chinese workers. They capture the villainy right, and do good on their reprise of “Business is Business”.

Rounding out the cast in various ensemble and smaller named roles were: Charlton Brio (FB) [Old Willie, Miner, Immigrant]; Kyle Brogmus (FB) [Official, Junk-Man, Sailor, Crew-member, Miner]; Eugene Thomas Erlikh (FB) [Karl, Stevedore, Voice 1, Immigrant]; Paola Fregoso (FB) [Streetwalker, Flo]; Bedjou Jean (FB) [Blacksmith, Official, Miner]; Kole King (FB) [August, Isadore, Shortman]; Christina McGrath (FB) [Official, Peddler, Miner]; Shawna Merkley (FB) [Crew, Woman, Voice 3]; Anastasia Perevozova (FB) [Aunt Frieda, Immigrant]; Justice Quinn (FB) [Miner, Voice 2, Official]; Savannah Rutledge (FB) [Official, Peddler, Servant, Miner]; James Singleton (FB) [Goodman, Immigrant, Policeman, Cowboy, Miner]; Trenton Tabak (FB) [Man 1, Man 2, Passerby, Official, Miner]; and Sabrina Torres (FB) [Immigrant, Miner]. As a group, they sang and moved well; they also seemed to be having fun with their roles.

The production was under the Music Direction of Richard Allen (FB), and featured Orchestrations by Lanny Meyers (FB). The on-stage, in the back, orchestra consisted of Richard Allen (FB) [Keyboard1, Conductor]; Lanny Meyers (FB) [Keyboard2]; Say Jay Hynes [Violin]; Kim Richmond and John Reilly (FB) [Woodwinds]; Timothy Emmons [Bass]; and Ed Smith (FB) [Drums / Percussion]. The orchestra sounded great.

Rounding out the production credits: Tesshi Nakagawa (FB)’s scenic design was a movable wood structure that made me think of Hamilton‘s scaffolding. Minimalist, but it worked well. The lighting design by Derek Jones (FB) set the mood well. The Sound design by Austin Quan (FB) was reasonably clear, although there were a few mic problems. Morgan Gannes (FB)’s Costume Design seemed appropriately period. Graphic design was by Doug Haverty (FB). Maggie Marx (FB) was the Production Stage Manager.

The last performance of Levi!i was Saturday, December 2, 2017.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 continues with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Los Angeles Story | “This Land” @ Company of Angels

This Land (Company of Angels)There are many ways that I discover the shows I go see — especially the non-musical plays. Most often, they come through a season subscription — rare is the small company that only does musicals, and so the artistic director’s vision introduces me to new plays. Occasionally, I know the playwright, such as with last week’s Mice. Even less frequently I’ll discover a play from one of my various theatrical feeds (Playbill, Broadway World, Bitter/Better Lemons). Even rarer is the publicist’s missive that catches my eye — typically because there’s something in the subject matter of the play.

That’s what happened with Company of Angels (FB)’s This Land, which we saw last night. The publicist, Susan Gordan (FB), sent a proposal for an article describing an upcoming world premiere. The pitch was: “a rich story spanning over 150 years about four families with ancestry from different parts of the world (Tongva Indians, African, Mexican, Irish) who make their home on one particular plot of Southern California land now known as Watts. A host of old curses and blessings, traditions and recipes, loves and betrayals travel down family lines from the 19th to the 21st century, forcing each successive generation to ask in times of hardship, “Should I stay or should I go?”” Little did Susan know that although I might appear to them as a theatre reviewer because of this blog, I’m really a cybersecurity guy who not only loves theatre but who also has an intense interest in history — especially California history (which anyone who reads my highway pages knows). I’m a native Angeleno (Los Angeles native, for those not familiar with the term) who has been studying Los Angeles history for years — not only just freeways, but transit, city growth, water, and city politics. This was a show on a topic that was truly of interest to me. So even though I couldn’t find discount tickets, I got tickets and went.

I am really glad that I did. This Land is — to date — I think the best play I’ve seen all year, and it is close up there for best show (and that’s putting it against Hamilton). Especially if you love history or love Los Angeles, this is a play that you must see. It tells the story well, it educates its audience, it makes the audience think and see the city in a different way. It does what a play is supposed to do: tell you a story, draw you in, and not only entertain but elucidate.

Additionally, it also does something to address a common complaint about theatre in Los Angeles: It tells a story about Los Angeles, to audiences that reflect Los Angeles. Let me explain: There are very few plays — and even fewer musicals — that tell Los Angeles stories.  Just ask yourself: What shows do you know that tout the New York experience, are centered in New York, or that focus on New York? Now ask yourself the same question about Los Angeles. See my point? Los Angeles has an extremely rich cultural history, significant historical events, culture clashes and milieus. Yet Los Angeles is viewed by playwrights often as a collection of suburb in search of a city, a shallow car culture (witness Freeway Dreams from earlier this year). There are a few plays that touch on nostalgia (such as Bruce Kimmel’s LA: Then and Now,  or the even earlier Billy Barnes’ LA). The large LA theatres rarely commission or present shows about Los Angeles (a major complaint of the LA Times critic). There are the occasional shows, yes — A Mulholland Christmas Carol occasionally resurfaces,  and of course there is Zoot Suit, which packs them in at the Mark Taper Forum (which we saw in February). Further, the Los Angeles theatre audience is often unfortunately predominately a single shade, and aging (I’ve complained about this before: how the complexion of an audience changes only when the subject of the play is about that group’s experience — and that’s wrong). Yet This Land was not only a story about the diversity that is Los Angeles, it reflected the diversity of Los Angeles in the casting, and even more significantly, reflected the diversity of Los Angeles in the diversity of the audience — a melting pot of ethnicities and ages and genders. This is a play that touches and speaks to the diversity that is Los Angeles, that speaks to young and old, to the recent immigrant and the long time resident. Further, it turns out that this is a commission from the Center Theatre Group (FB), one of the largest non-profit theatre groups in the city, being produced by Company of Angels (FB), the oldest non-professional theatre company in Los Angeles, founded in 1959 by a group of television and film actors that included Richard Chamberlain, Leonard Nimoy and Vic Morrow, with a revised mission to provide a space for the voices and audiences neglected by the major regional theaters. This is not only theatre in Los Angeles, it is Los Angeles theatre — about Los Angeles, reflective of Los Angeles, speaking to Los Angeles.

Do you think I liked the show? 😊

This Land is a story that spans 150 years in a community in South Los Angeles called Watts. It is a small area, roughly bordered by 92nd Street on the North, Imperial Avenue on the South, Central Avenue on the West, and Alameda on the East. You might have heard of Watts: it was the location of the Watts Riots in 1965, and the Rodney King riots in 1992.  It was one of the original suburbs of Los Angeles. It started out as the site of the Tongva village, Tejaawta, and became part of Rancho La Tajauta in 1843. It was incorporated into the city in 1926. Like Boyle Heights, this was a community that welcomed the worker. After the Tongva and the Mexicans, there came the American farmers and waves of farmers moving west around the depression. In the 1940s, it was one of the few communities in Los Angeles that permitted African-American residents (Los Angeles has a nasty history of restrictive covenants and red-lining, which affect the city to this very day). The influx of the black community had an impact on the existing white residents (again, another common nasty history in Los Angeles). With the growth of the hispanic communities in Los Angeles in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Watts changed again. Now, with the rebirth and resurgence of rail in Los Angeles (Watts was along one of the original transit backbones of the city, and is again), combined with affordable prices and gentrification, well, you know what is happening and who is being pushed out, with no affordable solutions.

This Land (Cast Strip)That history is the background and setting of This Land. It tells the intertwined stories of five families representative of the various eras of Watts: the original Tongva settlers interacting with the first Missions and Ranchers in 1843 (Tomas, Toya, and Enrique), the first influx of the Americans in 1848 (Patrick), the first black families moving into the area in 1949 and later in 1965 (Maeve and James, Leola and Leslie), the transition as the hispanic families change the communities yet again in 1992 (Fidel and Ricardo, Sharon and Mel), and the wave of gentrification as developers purchase homes from families to transform the area yet again in the near future of 2020 (Ricardo, Della, and Dalton). The storytelling is intertwined, moving back and forth between the historical periods. It shows how — in true LA fashion — there was hatred when new cultures came in, yet eventual cultural transfer of ideas and food. It showed the importance of water to the city — not only was the LA river near Watts, but Watts was one of the few areas in the city that was able to draw water from artesian wells. It highlighted the discrimination and restrictions that existed in the city not only for the people one might think of as minorities — the blacks, the hispanics — but other groups as well, such as the Jews or the Dust Bowl Refugees. It really speaks to the multicultural story of the city — not of a predominately single ethnicity experience as was seen for the 1940s Pachucos of Zoot Suit, or the rose-tinted nostalgia of the Los Angeles reviews such as Los Angeles: Then and Now (which tend to look back on kitsch and ephemera, and not the painful ugly aspects). For many LA plays, the ugly aspect is the gay history of the city — but there is much more ugliness under the surface. It also captures well the little LA things, from Dy-Dee Diaper service to the importance of the Aerospace industry and the automotive industry (and how the decline of both drastically impacted minority communities in the city).

Playwright Evangeline Ordaz (FB) has crafted a story that drew me in and kept me enthralled up to and including the closing scene. From my knowledge of the history, it captured things quite well. Interconnections that could have come off as forced coincidences don’t — they seem to flow well and a naturally, and work to highlight the impact of the story and show the ultimate connectedness of people to each other and to the land. Director Armando Molina (FB) handles the small cast in this large story well. Almost every actor portrays multiple characters for the different eras, and the performances are so distinctly different that in some cases I actually left thinking there were additional actors and one had been left off of the program. That is how well this director worked with the actors to individualize each performance to the character, and to make the characters believable. Very very well crafted both in the story and the stage realization.

As for the acting ensemble, what can I say but: I was impressed by their ability to become their characters. Unlike most shows, I can’t discuss them in tiers because this was a true ensemble — performances of approximately equal size and weight across the story. So let’s work across the eras.

Beginning in 1843, we have Toya (Cheryl Umaña (FB)), the Tongva village leader whose father, Tomas (Richard Azurdia (★FB, FB)) has gone to the Mission. There is also Enrique (Jeff Torres (FB)), the son of the rancher whose lands are encroaching on the Tongva village lands. There is also Pepe (Niketa Calame (FB)), the Mexican soldier who is helping Enrique. All are strong here, but the central relationships are Toya and Tomas, and Toya and Enrique. Umaña is great as Toya, trying to understand a culture and communicate in a language and with a changing world she does not understand. Torres is also spotlighted here as the rancher trying to do right by both the mission and Toya’s father, Tomas. As Tomas, Azurdia has a great portrayal of a man who tried to do right for his village, but who was broken by the Mission system (which was the beginning of poor racial relations in the City of the Angels).

Moving to 1848, we meet Patrick (Ian Alda (FB)) , an Irish-American soldier coming to the land with the Americans, as the days of the Mexican land grants are waning. This is a smaller era in the story, but Alda captures the Irish aspects well.

Jumping to 1947 and 1965, we meet Maeve (Johanna McKay (FB)), a white woman living in Watts who moved there during the depression-era dustbowl migration, and her new black neighbor, Leola (LeShay Tomlinson (FB)), who has just moved from Louisiana.  Both were remarkable performances. McKay captures well the woman whose neighborhood is changing but sees her neighbors as people, not their skin (an attitude that, unfortunately, wasn’t too common). Tomlinson gives a wonderful portrayal of a woman who has escapes the overt discrimination of the South only to run into the covert discrimination of the West — or to paraphrase as she put it, in the South they are at least racist to your face, not behind your back. She also captured the proud woman just trying to do the best for her family while dealing with the changing circumstances of life (and I knew many people like that — both friends and parents of friends from those areas).

By 1965, the children are added to the mix: Maeve’s son James (Ian Alda (FB) in his 2nd role), and Leola’s daughter Leslie (Niketa Calame (FB) in her 2nd role). These two capture well the angst of their era: Alda capturing well the young white adult in Watts who wants his parents to move somewhere “safer” (which, yes, is code we still see today), and Calame capturing the young adult trying to make changes in society.

Turning to 1992, we are dealing with the children of the prior era, and yet another transition. We have Leslie’s children Mel ((Niketa Calame (FB), in her 3rd role) and Sharon (LeShay Tomlinson (FB), in her 2nd role). Maeve has moved out, and moving in is a HIspanic family with a taco business, Ricardo (Jeff Torres (FB)) and Fidel (Richard Azurdia (★FB, FB), in his 2nd role). All of the performances shine here. Calame was spectacular as Mel, the young woman trying to make friends and accept her new neighbors, seeing them as people and not their skin. This was in contrast to her sister, Sharon, as portrayed by Tomlinson (who I didn’t even recognize as the character, the difference was that distinct). Tomlinson’s Sharon was more antagonistic, not trusting the new people in the neighborhood and moving to violence as the solution. Next door we had Azurdia’s Fidel and his Taco Truck, which was just a realistic and very human portrayal that could easily have gone stereotypical. Lastly, we had Torres’s Ricardo — a young man who was just trying to fit in the neighborhood. All great performances.

Lastly, there was 2020, where we had Dalton (Ian Alda (FB) in his 3rd role), James’s son, attempting to buy back the land and the houses from Torres’ Ricardo and Della (Cheryl Umaña (FB), in her 2nd role), Mel’s daughter. Smaller scenes, but still strong performances capturing the residents of today seeing the developers come in to try to move them out, with no place they could afford to go.

Simply put — all great performances.

Turning to the production side: This was Company of Angels (FB)’s first production in their new space at Legacy LA (FB) at the Hazard Park Armory (interesting history of its own) next to County-USC Medical Center.  This is an expansive warehouse space creating one of the largest stages I’ve seen for a small company. Justin Huen (FB)’s scenic design worked well in the space, creating a backdrop for Benjamin Durham (FB)’s projection to establish the place, with the scenic design creating the house spaces, the truck spaces, and the land and river spaces well. This was augmented by Huen’s lighting design that created time and mood. Manee Leija‘s costumes (which presumably included hair and wigs, as there wasn’t a distinct credit) distinguished the characters well, although I can’t vouch on authenticity. Rebecca Kessin (FB)’s sound design amplified (get it, amplified 🙂 ) the environment, and provided the cues for the transitions. Rounding out the production credits were: Daniel Muñoz (FB) – Stage Manager; Heather McLane (FB) – Asst. Stage Manager and Prop Design; Susan Gordon – Publicist; Tamadhur Al-Aqeel (FB) – ProducerCompany of Angels (FB) is under the Artistic Direction of Armando Molina (FB).

The World Premiere of This Land continues at Company of Angels (FB) through November 13. The remaining performances are Fridays at 8pm on Nov. 3 and 10; Saturdays at 8pm on Nov. 4 and 11; Sundays at 7pm on Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and 12; and Mondays at 8pm on Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and 13. Tickets are $25; senior $15; students $12; Monday performances are Pay-What-You-Can. TIckets are available through the Company of Angels website or possibly calling 323-475-8814.  Discount tickets do not appear to be available on Goldstar.  I have seen a reference that code “COMUNIDAD” may give a discount, but I don’t know if it was efffective (I paid full price). This is one of the best shows I’ve seen all year, followed closely by Hamilton and Zoot Suit. Go see it while you and, and learn about our great city.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 theatre drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. October concludes with  This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights. Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Mouse’s Tale | “Mice” @ Ensemble Studio Theatre

Mice (Ensemble Studio Theatre - LA)There are many reasons I attend a show. Sometimes it’s on a subscription. Others I hear the description, and they sound interesting (like next week’s This Land). I may have heard the music, and that makes me want to see the show. For a small number, I have a personal connection to someone in the production. In the case of Mice, which I saw Sunday evening at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village, I know the playwright. Schaeffer Nelson (FB), who wrote Mice, has a day job at a ticketing service, and he has been the person with whom I’ve been working the last two years to do our Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) subscriptions. He has always been patient with me on the phone, working to get us the most shows for what we could afford, in the best seats, at prices we like. So when EST’s publicist sent me the announcement for Mice and I saw Schaeffer was the author — and it was indeed the Schaeffer I knew — I knew I would try to fit it in. This was despite the fact that it was about a subject that I normally wouldn’t go see — horror and murder. Mice is a seventy-minute one-act play about a sadistic cannibal in a mouse costume who kidnaps the wives of pastors, binds them in a dungeon, tortures them, and eats them. If you’ve read my reviews, you know that’s a play I wouldn’t see. Well, to be precise, I wouldn’t go to see it unless there was song and dance (cough “Silence, The Musical”, cough, “Evil Dead, the Musical“).

When you are let into the theatre, you are confronted with the scene of two women, sitting on top of trash, chained by their hands and feet to two poles. As the show starts, the two start talking, with the one who had been held the longest, Ayushi (Sharmila Devar (FB)) attempting to calm the most recent capture, Grace (Heather Robinson (FB)). In doing so, she’s providing the necessary exposition for the show: why and how people are captured, what is done with them. She also encourages Grace to attempt to escape the next time their captor comes down to the basement for them. Shortly thereafter, we meet their abductor and capture, who is wearing a large mouse costume (Kevin Comartin (FB)). We soon learn why he has been capturing women, and why he has changed his mind about eating Grace. It is not, as you might think, that the suit told him to “Say Grace Before Eating”, which he heard as “Save”. Rather, the suit has told him that he needs to find a replacement, and both women smell right — so now he must decide. I’ll leave the plot hanging there.

I’ll first note that, although I went in expecting not to like this show — as I’m not a big fan of such dramas — this one caught my attention. I found the  story, umm, captivating, and I really had no idea where it would go. That’s good. From reading some reviews, there was a worry that it would be scary or sadistic, but I didn’t find that to be the case.

Second, it was really interesting to see this on the heels of Bright Star. There is an interesting connection with and parallel to the two stories, and a similar suspension of disbelief is required for both shows. I won’t give more away in that area, but see both if you can, near each other. I will note that I wasn’t the only audience member to walk out noting the connection.

There were a few sequences where the dialogue got into heavy Christianity discussions, which left me — as a Jewish audience member — wondering if I was missing something. So given that this was in an intimate space (and thus the script might be revised for future productions), I’d ask: What is there about this play that specifically requires both women to be familiar with Christianity? What might change if one of the women was a Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife), or a wife of an Imam, or the wife of the leader of an Eastern religion? How much Christian theory and practice must the audience know?

There were also a few plot slips that left me puzzled. Why, for example, after Mouseman was knocked out the first time, didn’t the women just take his ether soaked cloth and knock him out completely? It probably could be answered easily, but wasn’t. You don’t want to leave the audience distracted by such questions.

Other questions, however, remain. Why, for example, a mouse? Was it a reference to this being some sort of cat-and-mouse game? Was it a play on our thinking of rodents as dirty and nasty? Or was it just a costuming convenience. There should be a reason, and it somehow should be clear. And how to they do to the bathroom. People in plays never seem to have normal bodily functions. But I digress.

Some reviews I have read saw this story as a battle of faith, playing off the fact that Ayushi had essentially given up on her faith, but Grace was still strongly faithful. That battle didn’t come across to me — but it could be my lack of familiarity (or care) about Christian tenets, nor could I tell the difference between Ayushi abandoning Christianity and going back to Hinduism. There were a few pointed comments about the hypocrisy of Christianity, but the focus was more on self-loathing. Although it seemed to be a given that the wives of pastors are filled with self-loathing, I fail to see how that would be. Is there a particular reason that would be the case? I certainly haven’t seen it from the spouses of Rabbis that I know.

But overall, I found this an interesting play — as any discussion between two captors might be.

I noted the actors before. All of the performances were strong.

The production was directed by Roderick Menzies (FB), who kept the pace moving along, and helped bring out proper captive behavior in the actors.

On the production side, the Amanda Knehans‘s scenic design was simple: four poles for the captors (two each), some trash, tables, chairs, and a basement. Simple works.  Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design supports this well — the women look like, well, women who were at church, and Mouseman’s costume is suitably mouselike and bloody. The sound design of David Boman (FB) is interesting. One wouldn’t expect a lot of sound design would be needed in a show like that, and one would be wrong. There were numerous sound effects, all of which worked well. Ellen Monocroussos (FB)’s lighting design worked well to establish the mood and suspense.  Other production credits: Mike Mahaffey (FB) – Fight Coordinator; Priscilla Miranda (FB) – Stage Manager; Liz Ross (FB) – Producer; Christopher Reiling (FB) – Associate Producer.

Mice continues at Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) through October 29. Tickets are available through the EST LA Website. I was unable to find discount tickets on either Goldstar or LA Stage Tix, but small theatres like this can use the full price purchases. This show isn’t for everyone’s taste, but if you find the subject matter interesting — or attend  the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) — it is worth seeing. EST-LA has another well reviewed production playing during October, Wet: A DACAmented Journey. I won’t be able to fit it in my schedule, but you might. This production’s Mouseman serves as the director.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (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 theatre drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. October concludes with  This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights. Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya  (FB) for the Klezmatics. We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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I’ve Written a Play… | “On the 20th Century” @ Proof Doubt Closer

On the Twentieth (20th) Century (Proof Doubt Closer)Did you know I’ve written a play? It is about life as a professional audience member.

I call it, “Life as a Professional Audience Member”. I put it down, just as it happened.

Oh, you’d prefer to read it as a blog instead? (walks away dejected)

But to be serious: I do consider myself of lover a theatre, ever since I saw my first Bock-Harnick show, The Rothschilds. As I’ve gotten older, I began to look at the composing team, and exploring all the works from that team. One of the best composers during the post-Rodgers and Hammerstein phase was Cy Coleman. He tended to team with other lyricists, but you could always guarantee a jazzy score. Just consider his string of hits (not in order): Little Me, Wildcat, Sweet Charity, I Love My Wife, Seesaw, The Life, City of Angels, Will Rogers Follies, and On the Twentieth Century. He also made a number of albums with his jazz trio, including one with the songs from Barnum, which is one of my favorites.

But I don’t just collect albums from composers; I try to see all of their shows. Here it is a bit harder, as many of the Coleman shows are rarely produced. I was lucky enough to see Barnum and City of Angels — as well as Coleman’s last show, Like Jazz — when they were first performed in LA; other companies in LA have done productions of  The Life and Will Rogers Follies, and I was lucky enough to catch those. For a while, it looked like DOMA was going to do Sweet Charity, but that fell through. Back in 2012, I heard that the Sierra Madre Playhouse (FB) was doing On The Twentieth Century and booked tickets, but alas, it was was the original play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, adapted by Ken Ludwig. A great production, but not what I was looking for.

So when an actor I met through Repertory East Playhouse informed me that she was going to be in a production of the musical version, on the calendar it went. I learned about the Kickstarter for the show and supported it, for this was a new production company (Proof Doubt Closer (FB)), dedicated to doing lesser known works. Our “reward” for donating was tickets, and so we found ourselves squeezing in a second show for the weekend: Cy Coleman’s On the Twentieth Century, with Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on plays by by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and Charles Bruce Millholland (not Bruce Mullholland, as in the program), and additional music by David Krane (FB) and Seth Rudetsky (FB), at the Pan Andreas Theatre (FB) in Hollywood.

I should note that, going in, the Kickstarter only raised about 40% of the funds that were required for the show. This impacted the production budget, which could be seen in the set (and to some extent, the costumes), which were more suggestive of the location and period than capturing the actual elegance of the namesake train or how passengers of this caliber would have dressed for the travel. One might also think it was reflected in the air conditioning budget — at least the day of our show, the poor unit was broken or unable to keep up. Hint: Sit in the back rows, under the ceiling fans, and you’ll do much better.

Here’s what I wrote in 2012 about the play:

The play itself is quite significant: produced in 1932, it was later remade as a 1934 movie with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard that ushered in the era of 1930s screwball comedies.

The story of “20th Century” is set in March 1933 on the Twentieth Century Limited, a train from Chicago to New York City. The story is centered around Oscar Jaffe, an egomaniacal Broadway director, and Lily Garland, the chorus girl he transformed into a leading lady. With three failed productions in a row, bankrupt, and about to lose his theatre after the failure of his latest, “Joan of Arc”, Oscar boards the Twentieth Century Limited. He knows that his former protege and star, Lily Garland, will also be on the train; Lily is now a temperamental movie star (with a “golden statue”). He’ll do anything to get her back under contract and back in his bed, but his former protege will have nothing to do with him.  Assisting Jaffe in this exercise are his staff, Ida Webb and Owne O’Malley. Also on the train are Dr. Grover Lockwood and his mistress, Anita Highland; the doctor has written a play he wants Jaffe to product (about “Joan of Arc”). Also on the train is Myrtle Clark, a religious fanatic and heiress of a laxative fortune (and also escaped from an asylum). After Lily Garland boards the train at the second stop with her agent and boytoy, George Smith, the craziness begins. Now add to this mixture a second producer who also wants to cast Garland in his production, and the touring company of the  Oberammergau Passion Play. The role of the century! A potential investor! All of this to be resolved on a single train trip from Chicago to New York.

The musical is every similar, although some names have changed and characters split. You can see the detailed updated synopsis on the Wikipedia page. The main characters, Jaffee and Garland, remain, although Jaffee’s assistances become Oliver Webb and Owen O’Malley. The doctor and Lockwood split: Lockwood becomes a Congressman, who has written a play about life on the Hogworking Committee, and the Dr. becomes a gastroenterologist who, it just so happens, has written a play about life in a Metropolitan Hospital. The religious fanatic was renamed as Letitia Primrose, and Garland’s boyfriend became Bruce Granit. But the other plot aspects remain the same; and the farcical nature remains the same. As Coleman, Comden, and Green adapted the show, it also becomes a parody of melodramas and operettas in the musical and lyrical styling. I should note that, in the Broadway version that won five Tony awards, John Cullum played Oscar Jaffee, Madeline Kahn and later Judy Kaye as Lily Garland, Imogene Coca as Mrs. Primrose, and newcomer Kevin Kline as Bruce Granit. All stellar actors with the split second farcical timing required for a show such as this. Note also that the reworking into the musical played up the campiness, and permitted some level of overacting by the leads due to the nature of the play as a farce.

One other note about the reworking: in his approach to the musical, Coleman intentionally parodied the operetta style that was common at the time of the story, especially as that was what the leads would have been using on the stage (think shows like The Desert Song by Sig Romberg). Thus, there is a lot of use of the operatic style voice (although, being a layperson, I have no idea what to call that).

Now that the bones of the show are known, and are known to be good, how did Proof Doubt Closer do with the show, recognizing they had about 40% of the needed budget and the typical limited rehearsal time one sees in intimate theatre in Los Angeles, especially where actors often have real day jobs (as opposed to the stereotypical New York waiter)? (I”ll note we actually did see Proof Doubt Closer’s first show, although I don’t think they were called that then)

The answer is: reasonably, given what they had to work with. This wasn’t at the level of what I’m sure the tour was like when it hit the Civic Light Opera or the Ahmanson (I forget which produced it in 1979, when I’m sure it toured). The earnestness and the desire to be funny was there. But I think there was too much earnestness, so to speak. The success of a farce comes very much from the direction, and I just got the feeling that the director, Trace Oakley (FB) tried a little too hard. There was too much camp, there was too much overacting (especially by Jaffee and his assistants). There was the lack of unison, the lack of a well-oiled machine needed for farce. (I’ll note that this also showed in Averi Yorek (FB)’s choreography, which needed a bit more precision and everyone doing the same thing at the same time). There is the possibility that this is something that could have been ironed out in a longer and more intense rehearsal period, but that’s not possible in the LA intimate theatre scene where current rules from Actors Equity force either use of non-Equity actors (meaning they may not have training in that precision), or limited rehearsal time, and the nature of LA acting work means the performance is a labor of love, not the full time job. So the net result was tolerable unity, which lead to the aforementioned reasonable production. It wasn’t painfully bad by any extent, but it wasn’t at the level of a well-oiled production from companies like Sacred Fools, DOMA, or Good People Theatre.  It should also be noted that the director had a wide range of experience in his cast, from new-ish actors to folks who have been in the LA intimate theatre scene for a while. Lastly, I’ll note it was warm in our production, so I have no idea how much the heat was affecting the acting team.

In the lead acting positions were Wade Kelley (FB) as Oscar Jaffee and Alena Bernardi (FB) as Lily Garland. Kelley’s Jaffee struck me as off — and I’m unsure how much was direction, and how much was the actor. For Jaffee, I expect a certain level of gravitas in the role. After all, this is a man filled with self-importance, who has been producing theatre for years. Kelley didn’t convey that too much. There was a bit “too much” at times. It was a good performance, but not quite great. Bernardi’s Garland was stronger, and was plagued a bit less by the “too much” problem, although I got a sense the direction was trying to bring that in. Bernardi got many of the songs and handled them well, although the shift from what I would call the musical theatre singing voice and the “opera” singing voice was pronounced (I specifically noted it in one of the numbers — I thought the opening, but looking back, I’m not sure she was in it, so it must have been in a different number). In Bernardi’s case, both were strong, although some songs might have worked better in more of the musical theatre style (although, this was more of a personal perference; the first priority is to do numbers as written in the score). [Note: In writing this up, I see from Bernardi’s FB that she’s on vocal rest today — that could explain the pronounced shift in her voice — it was tired. That happens, and given that I liked her voice when I last saw her, I hope it recovers quickly.]

Supporting Oscar Jaffee were his two associates, Oliver Webb and Owen O’Malley, played by Rafael Orduña (FB★, FB) and Nate Beals (FB), respectively. As characters, the two were interchangeable — think Peter Falk to Jack Lemmon’s character in The Great Race. Both sang very well and very strong, but both tended to overplay the farcical side of their roles. I think particularly of their faces during “The Legacy” as an example of that. But they were fun to watch. In a similar supporting role was Nathan Jenisch (FB) as Bruce Granit, Garland’s boyfriend and agent. His role is more slapstick, and he handled it quite well.

Georgan George (FB★, FB) played Mrs. Letitia Primrose, and she captured the crazy of the character well. She had wonderful facial expressions and glee as she stickered away (again, this was great during the latter half of Act II). It was our first time seeing her in a singing role: she was strong on the musical theatre side of the voice, but could use a drop more strength on the operatic side (which she tends to use less in the roles she has done). But that was a minor concern; overall, she was fun in the role.

Portraying the train staff were Philip McBride (FB) as the Conductor, and Nicole Sevey (FB), Talya Sindel (FB), and Rowan Treadway (FB) as porters. Performance-wise, these were background roles to the craziness on the train with little separate identity. Music-wise, however, they provided some of the key transitory numbers (and all the tap dance). I enjoyed watching them, although they need a bit more precision in the movement and tap to be in complete unison. All were strong singers, but I was particularly taken by Sindel, a UCB astrophysics student transitioned to the stage. She just had a lovely voice that stood out, combined with great looks and great dance. Her compatriots, Severy and Treadway, were also very good.

Rounding out the cast were the remaining members of the ensemble, who also had various small supporting roles: Anagabriela Corrdero (FB) [Agnes, Ensemble]; Tatiana Gomez (FB) [Stranded Actor, Ensemble]; Stephen Juhl (FB) [Congressman Lockwood, Max Jacobs]; and Chelsea Pope (FB) [Imelda, Doctor Johnson]. There were a few here I’d like to single out. On first sight, I fell in love with Corrdero’s face — it is quite adorable. But more importantly, that girl can sing: she had a remarkable voice that stood out in the ensemble numbers. I hope to hear more of her (“see more of her” just sounds wrong) in other productions around the city. Pope had an interesting and expressive face that was quite fun to watch in her various roles; it was harder to assess the singing voice, which she had to intentionally make bad as Imelda, but I think sounded good as the doctor.

Musical direction was by Alena Bernardi (FB), assisted by Cynthia Cook-Heath (FB), who also led the on-stage orchestra on the piano. Also providing music were Mike Dubin (FB) on drums, Millie Martin (FB) on bass, and Christian Robinson on trumpet. The music was strong and I especially appreciated the brass (which this show needs), although there was one number at the beginning of Act II where the trumpet sounded just a little off. Philip McBride (FB) / Pikakee Music did the musical arrangements.

Turning to the production side: I feel sorry for the overworked Rebekah Atwell (FB), who did the set design, lighting design, and also served as the stage manager. I think she bore the brunt of the limited budget, and did the best that she could with the budget that she had. I always find it interesting how stage companies interpret trains, as a member of a train museum who knows the trains well. There was no credit for sound design. Rachel Harmon (FB) did the costume design, although she had no credit in the bio section. The costumes were reasonable, given the budget, although I’m not sure about the netting on the porter’s skirts. Zahra Husein (FB) is listed as propsmaster and assistant costume designer.

The Proof Doubt Closer (FB) production of On the Twentieth Century (or is that On the 20th Century) runs at the Pan Andreas Theatre (FB) on Melrose until August 27th. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through a Groupon. The production isn’t perfect, but it is a valiant attempt to present a rarely done musical — and in that area, it succeeds quite well. However, be prepared for a warm theatre.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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:

We have one more show scheduled in August, and then we’ve got a little theatre vacation. The show, however, is worth it:  Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have only The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Love Has Driven Me Sane | “Two Gentlemen of Verona” @ FPAC

Two Gentlemen of Verona - The Musical (FPAC)If you were to ask me what my absolute favorite musical was — that is, the one musical that was guaranteed to leave me happy and feeling good upon hearing the score — it would be the 1972 Tony-award winning Two Gentlemen of Verona written by William Shakespeare, adapted by John Guare and Mel Shapiro, with lyrics by John Guare and music by Galt MacDermot, originally presented by the New York Shakespeare Festival (now the Public Theatre). I saw it back in 1973 when I was just 13 at the Ahmanson, with Jonelle Allen, Clifton Davis (FB), Stockard Channing, and Larry Kert, and much of the original NY cast (including a young Katey Sagal). I hadn’t seen it since — aside from one production in Central Park in 2005, I can’t recall hearing of it being revived. I certainly can’t recall it being produced in Los Angeles since the original. So when my RSS feed from Goldstar alerted me to the fact that a theatre company I had never heard of — the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FB) — was producing the show and we were in the middle weekend of a three weekend production, the question was not “if”, but whether I could fit it in. After all, next weekend I already had two shows (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and On The Twentieth Century), and I already had a show on Saturday night of this weekend. Luckily, the show was nearby in San Fernando, so I got tickets for last night. Even though I had a slight headache, I’m very glad that I did. It was a delight to see my favorite show again, and as always, it left me very happy and with a smile on my face. I wish more companies would remember this show: it is sheer fun, multicultural, with a diverse cast great for schools, wonderful dance, pretty milkmaids, and a dog. It will live you loving it, and loving love.

If you aren’t familiar with Two Gentlemen of Verona, here’s the quick summary: TGOV is considered to be Shakespeare’s first play, and falls into the comedy category, because everyone falls in love at the end (as opposed to tragedies, where everyone dies). Valentine and Proteus are best friends. Proteus is infatuated with Julia, a local girl in Verona; Valentine scoffs at love and wants adventure in the big city, Milan. Valentine, with his servant Speed, heads off to Milan, while Proteus, helped by his servant Launce, courts Julia (and her servent Lucetta). But soon Proteus’s father sends him off to Milan, leaving Julia behind (and pregnant). She and Lucette dress up as men so they can travel to Milan and tell Proteus. In Milan, however, Valentine has found love in the form of Sylvia, the daughter of the Emperor of Milan. However, the Emperor has send Sylvia’s love, Eglamour, off to war, while arranging a marriage for Sylvia to a rich fool, Thurio. Sylvia detests Thurio, and enlists Valentine to save her. Proteus, who by now has forgotten Julia and is also smitten by Sylvia, learns of the plot and tells the Duke, who promptly sends Valentine off to war. Proteus then enlists two young men, Sebastian (nee Julia) and Cesario (nee Lucetta), to help court Sylvia. Eglamour returns to kidnap Sylvia, and everyone then joins in the hunt for Sylvia. Proteus discovers the lovers in the forest, but so does Valentine, and a sword fight ensues. When the dust has cleared, Proteus has discovered Sebastian’s reality and condition, and ends up marrying her. Eglamour is gone, and Valentine gets Sylvia. Thurio gets Lucetta, and Launce finds that a milkmaid from the field is better than a dog. Cupid is happy.

Two Gentlemen of Verona @ FPAC - CastThe musical version takes this story and just has fun with it. In an era of lily-white shows and lily-white casting, this show (like Hair before it) was gloriously multicultural. In the original cast, Proteus and Julia were Hispanic; Sylvia, Valentine, and the Duke were Black; Speed and Eglamour were Asian, Launce was old-Jewish, and Thurio and Lucetta were white. The casting of this production was similarly multicultural, although the hispanic emphasis of the leads was a bit less (the only place it made a difference was in the pronunciation, and truthfully, only people that had memorized the cast album like me would have noticed).

Under the direction of Timothy Jon Borquez (FB) (who seems to have been similarly enamored of this show), the action  was constant. He seemed to be emphasizing the fun of the production; there were few performers that had “painted on” faces — their happiness with this show was infectious to the audience. The direction brought out the playfulness in the characters — and this show is all about play. It is also worth noting that the material Borquez was working with — that is, his cast — were mostly younger actors (nary a resume on Backstage or Actors Access). They weren’t at the level of “fresh-outs” from high school, but they also weren’t seasoned Broadway professionals. Most are still theatre students. Broadly, there was a need for a bit more power in the voices. The raw talent overall was great and there was excellent vocal quality that shown through (as noted below) — just a bit more reach to the back of the auditorium was needed.

The best friends at the heart of this show were Proteus and Valentine, played by Steven Brogan (FB) and Jared Grimble (FB), respectively. Brogan had fun with Proteus (as the pictures show), really getting into the character. He had a wonderful voice that occasionally could use a little extra strength, but overall was a joy to listen to. He was great in numbers like “Symphony” and “What Does a Lover Pack?”, but needed a bit more anger behind “Calla Lily Lady”. We’ve seen Brogan before, it turns out, in the CSUN production of Bat Boy, The Musical. As Valentine, Grimble was similar: fun with the acting, believable in his character, and a remarkable voice. He was no Clifton Davis (but who is), but brought a wonderful style to numbers like “Love’s Revenge” and “Mansion”.

The object d’amour in Verona was Julia, played by Sarah Borquez (FB), and her servent, Lucetta, played by Hope English/FB. We may have seen Borquez before; her name comes up as being in a production of Into The Woods we saw at Nobel Middle School, but the years don’t fit the credits. In any case, Borquez was a strong performer and had a lovely singing voice. She just needs a bit more anger behind the loveliness in numbers like “I Am Not Interested in Love” and “What a Nice Idea”. English also had a great voice which astounded during “Land of Betrayal”.

Sylvia was portrayed by Beth Redwood/FB). Redwood had a strong voice from the opening number, and continued with that strength throughout the show. She also danced wonderfully, and captured the nature of Sylvia well. Her only weakness was costuming, which could have used a tad more support.

Proteus’ and Valentine’s servants, Launce and Speed, were portrayed by Wayne Remington/FB and Erin Arredondo/FB, respectively. Remington gets the slightly larger role here, getting to mug with the dog Gio (playing Crab), singing “Pearls”, and, at the end, getting to sing “Milkmaid”. Arredondo’s Speed mostly is a foil for Launce, but gets to join him in “Hot Lover”. Both appeared to be having quite a bit of fun with this production, which is always infectious.

The Duke of Milan was played by Dan White (FB). White’s role is mostly bombast, but he portrays that well and with joy. He gets one standout song: “Bring The Boys Back Home” (which is clearly a commentary on Nixon and the Vietnam War), which he handles with aplomb.

On the more comic ends of the spectrum are Cody Williams (FB) as Thurio and Mary Zastrow (FB) as Cupid. Williams captures the foolish and foppish nature of Thurio well, and brings that foolishness to the singing, especially in the song “Thurio’s Samba”. I was afraid they might need to censor the song, given the refrain (Boom-Chicka-Chicka, But-Fucka-Wucka-Wucka Cock-waka-waka Puss-wussy-wussy Wow) and the little ones in the audience, but they just slightly muddied the words and it went right over their heads. Zastrow was having the time of her life as Cupid. This isn’t a large singing role except for a few operatic numbers played for the humor, but as Cupid herself she got to mug away and just play.

Rounding out the named characters was Edgar Cardoso/FB‘s Eglamour. Cardoso played Eglamour more as fashion model/Fabio-ish, which is a little bit different than I remember the portrayl. He handled the number “Eglamour” well.

The ensemble consisted of Audrey Byer (FB), Cynthia Cordon/FB, Kasey Furginson/FB, Corazon Montanio (FB), Shannon Nail/FB, John Redwood/FB, Jackie Sanders/FB, Priscilla Nathalie Soltero/FB, Sienna Wescott/FB, and Van McDuff (FB) (who was omitted from the bios).  All were strong, having fun, and a joy to watch.

Music was provided by an off-stage band under the direction of Alex Borquez/FB. The band consisted of Alex Borquez/FB on Guitar, Bass, Drums, Percussion; Edgar Cardoso/FB on Keyboards (which is why there were no keyboards while he was on stage); Zachary Borquez/FB on Brass; Michael Fandetti/FB on Reeds; Desiree’ Deasy (FB) on Violin I and II (hows that again? four hands, two chins, you say); Rebecca Yeh (FB) on Cello, and Mairin Deasy on Viola.

The choreography was by Lindsey Lorenz (FB), assisted by Bella Briscoe (FB). It was all over the place, which means that it covered the stage well :-). Seriously, the dancing worked reasonably well. Nothing too complicated, but good enough that the ensemble numbers were fun to watch.

Turning to the technical side. No credits were provided for the traditional disciplines: set design, prop design, sound design, lighting design, fight choreography, and such. The presumption is that some came from the master-of-all-hats, the director, Timothy Jon Borquez (FB). In any case: the set was simple: some risers, some flats (behind-which the ensemble resided when off-stage), some vine-al and vinyl decoration. Enough to give a vague sense of place. There were various props, such as a bike, a boat, a trunk. I think here is where the limited budget of this production showed; I remember the stage show having much more in this area. Sound design was good, although a bit muffled and over-mic-ed in the beginning. The bird sounds were nice. Lighting was a different problem. The basic lights were good, but there needs to be better coordination between the actors and the lighting placement, especially the follow-spots and the follow-movers. Often actors were quite literally left in the dark. The fight choreography in Act II was reasonable but could have used with a dash more swash in the buckle. Costumes, designed by Yessica Armenta/FB (Costume Coordinator), presumably, were, well, Ren-Faire-ish which is what you expect as the RenFaire was set in roughly that time. There were a few faux paux: Sylvia’s hose line was visible, there were a few crotch buttons undone, and the more busty could use a bit more support so they didn’t bust out. But these were minor and didn’t distract from the story. Grace Gaither/FB was the stage manager, and Bianca Armenta/FB was the house manager.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Musical continues at the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FPAC) (FB) through August 6. A limited number of tickets are available through Goldstar; otherwise, tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Performances take place at the ArTES Theatre (FB) at the Cesar E. Chavez Academies (FB), 1001 Arroyo Street, San Fernando, 91340. Although the cast is a young and less seasoned, being primarily local theatre students, they have a large amount of raw talent. This talent, combined with their enthusiasm and good singing voices and the joyous nature of this little produced show, make this a joy to watch.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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 July proper brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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Louis Jordan in Paris | “Five Guys Named Moe” @ Ebony Rep

Five Guys Name Moe (Ebony Rep)If I was to say the phrase “Five Guys” to most of you, you would probably say that you prefer In-N-Out. When I think of “Five Guys”, however, I don’t think burgers. I think An American In Paris. Let me explain why.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw the closing performance of the Clarke Peters (FB)’s 1992 Tony-nominated musical Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB). It was a delightful performance, high energy, great music, wonderful singing, dancing, and I left on a high. But I also left thinking about An American in Paris.

When I saw An American In Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) recently, I wrote “We went expecting to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. ” That didn’t make it bad, mind you. It was a wonderful dance show with wonderful music. I just had an inconsequential plot.

Five Guys Named Moe is a musical that celebrates the music of bandleader Louis Jordan. As they write in his entry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “In the Forties, bandleader Louis Jordan pioneered a wild – and wildly popular – amalgam of jazz and blues. The swinging shuffle rhythms played by singer/saxophonist Jordan and his Tympany Five got called “jump blues” or “jumpin’ jive,” and it served as a forerunner of rhythm & blues and rock and roll.” Five Guys Named Moe delights in this music. It showcases songs Jordan wrote. It exaults in songs that he made famous. From “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” to “Pusk Ka Pi Shie Pie” to “Saturday Night Fish Fry” to “Choo, Choo, Ch’bookie” to the classic “Caldonia” (“What!”) — the show is just a rollicking dance and music festival with that leaves you happy.

However, the plot — well — the plot itself is meaningless. A down on his luck alcoholic, Nomax (Obba Babatundé (FB)), has forgotten the birthday of the woman he loves.  The Five Moes — No Moe (Jacques C. Smith (FB)), Big Moe (Octavius Womack (FB★; FB)), Little Moe (Trevon Davis (FB★; FB), Four-Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (FB★; FB)), and Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony (FB)) — pop out of the radio to teach him the error of his ways. Through song and dance. [And even that inconsequential plot is abandoned for most of the second act when they do their “gig”].

And you know what? You don’t care about the plot. The music is great. The singing is great. The dance is great. The band* was smokin’. The audience was dancing (especially two really cute twin little girls up in front). You walk out with a big smile because the execution is perfection. The production team cast well, and the talent shows.

By the way, it wasn’t just the actors. When I said the band was smokin’, I meant it. They got a chance to jam at the enter-acte, and after the curtain they let loose with a closing number that highlighted each member and just swung. The six on the band platform — Abdul Hamid Royal (FB) [Musical Director, Piano]; Louis Van Taylor (FB) [Saxophone / Clarinet]; Christopher Gray [Trumpet]; Chris Johnson (FB) [Trombone]; Land Richards (FB) [Drums]; and Ian Seck/FB [Bass] — complemented the six actors perfectly.

On the other side of the production, things were pretty simple. Edward E. Haynes Jr. scenic design was simple: a scrim, a few props, some benches. Similarly, the costumes by Naila Sanders (FB) were pretty simple: suits, tuxes, and matching plaid jackets for the Moes. The sound design by John Feinstein/FB was as it should be: mostly unnoticeable, although for a bit during the first act  it sounded …. less than full range. I’m guessing that was a speaker problem. Most impressive on the design team was the lighting design of Dan Weingarten. Weingarten made wonderful use of the movers and gobos above the stage to create some wonderful visual effects that were just a delight to watch.

The production was directed and choreographed by Keith Young (FB). Dominique Kelley (FB) was the associate choreographer.  Other relevant credits: Ed de Shae (FB) — Production Stage Manager; Ross Jackson (FB) — Assistant Stage Manager.

Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Wren T. Brown (FB), whose 53rd birthday was yesterday. At the conclusion of the show, the cast and crew celebrated by leading the audience in the traditional Happy Birthday song (alas, not the Birthday Cake Polka, although that would have been cool). Mr. Brown introduced his family, and you could hear the gospel training in his voice — it was wonderful to hear. I do hope to be back at his theatre.

Alas, I caught the final performance of Five Guys Named Moe. But I’ll note that if you like the music of Louis Jordan, the new Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album Louie, Louie, Louie celebrates the music of Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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: June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned remaining schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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How Appropos | “Freeway Dreams” @ WriteAct Rep

Freeway Dreams (Write Act Rep)I recently received a press release from a publicist¹ about a “world premiere” musical at Write Act Repertory (FB)² at the Brickhouse Theatre (FB) called Freeway Dreams. How appropos, I thought. After all, my hobby is California Highways; I developed and maintained the California Highways page³. I commute every day on the LA freeways, driving a vanpool between Northridge and El Segundo (35 miles, one way) across the 405. I attend live theatre almost every week, and write up every show I go to. If there was anyone who should be writing up a musical about freeways, it is me. So I made my usual arrangement with the publicist4, figured out a spot in my increasingly full schedule, which resulted in our seeing the show last night in North Hollywood, after a 109 minute freeway commute home.

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¹: There are those who believe I am a theatre critic. I tell them I’m a cybersecurity specialist who just loves going to live performances (especially theatre), and then sharing that experience as an audience member via write ups on my blog. Still, I’ve learned a lot over the years.

²: You’ll notice no web site links. Write Act: Get your website act together. You have a link on your postcard: It gives a Wix error that the site isn’t set up yet. You have another link on your Facebook page: it gives a 403 Forbidden (although some subpages do work). You don’t have a direct link to your Brown Paper Tickets site on your postcard, nor is it on your current FB page. You need a proper website to promote your work.
³: Everything you want to know about numbered highways in California but were afraid to ask.
4: Most critics accept free tickets. I don’t. My real life job has strong ethics rules about what we can accept from suppliers, and I apply them to life. Free tickets could be seen as influence to a critic. I arrange for ½ price tickets, what I would have paid on Goldstar.
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Freeway Dreams, with book, music, and lyrics by Wayne Moore (FB) (one song co-authored by Jason Blume), started out as a cabaret show back in 1992 at The Gardenia Club in West Hollywood. There was a cycle of songs (eventually recorded as a “cast” album) with introductions and rough characters, but it wasn’t a fleshed out musical. After numerous requests for the script, Moore decided to flesh the song cycle out into a musical — better defining characters, snipping a song here and there. The result was this one-hour, no intermission musical.

The story framework is much like the cabaret show: A tourist bus of Japanese tourists has overturned on the Hollywood Freeway (US 101) turning the freeway into a parking lot. Four commuters — an aspiring actor, a young woman of unspecified employment, a casting director, and a pizza delivery guy — are stuck on the road and start to daydream. The bulk of those songs are those dreams.

As a song cycle, the show is very enjoyable. The songs are great, they are performed well, and fun to listen to. I’m sure that many of the songs on the cast album will get rated ★★★★★ on my iPod.

As a musical, the show is… a good start. I think — if the show is to have a longer life — more work is required. One review I saw commented on the dated references in the show (they suggested replacing pizza delivery with Uber, for example), and the overuse of the radio motif for news. I disagree to an extent — we still get our traffic reports on the radio, for example — but I do feel there needs to be nods to modern technology such as streaming music or podcasts. My observation is a bit deeper: I think that we need to learn more about these characters and their life, and see a greater arc than just “stuck on a freeway”. There also needs to be more of a connection to Los Angeles than just Hollywood and the opening song. There are precious few LA musicals (Billy Barnes LA, Bruce Kimmel’s LA: Then and Now), and this needs to go beyond the stereotypical Hollywood schtick. Where are the harried parents stuck on the freeway, the business executives that work downtown, the people commuting to aerospace and technology jobs. There is potential to make this something deeper — a commentary on the Los Angeles mindset to balance out the stereotypical New York condescension of the city that so much theatre has. The show needs more book, something that moves it beyond the fun song cycle at bit more. There are also songs that seem throwaway — no real connection to character or story (“The Bette Davis Chorus” is one such song — cute and enjoyable, but shoehorned in). The potential — the seed — is there; it just needs to drive past a few more exits to reach its ultimate destination, avoiding the temptation (to abuse a metaphor) of jumping off onto the surface streets now. Surface streets always seem like a good idea at the time….

As a commuter, there are realism problems. The show portrays drivers holding phones while driving, smoking pot on the freeway, and getting out of their cars on a stuck freeway to talk to other drivers. Those are either problematic behaviors or illegal behaviors, and should be rethought so as not to encourage other drivers (although there could be a great song in there about some of the stupid things drivers do while commuting). There is lots of potential in a musical about commuters and the freeway. But it needs to be done right.

So, story-wise, the summary is thus: A great song cycle (performed well), but it needs a bit more fleshing out to be a stronger book musical.

Turning to the “performed well” part: Under the direction and choreography of Jim Blanchette (FB), the actors effectively convey the story through songs, movement, and facial expressions (especially when they are in the background of songs). The theatre is a pure black box space — no fly, no follow-spot or moving mirrors. There is no set other than a projection screen. The sense of place and story and setting must come must come from the performers and props, and Blanchette has brought that out well.

The strongest performance — and a real positive surprise — was Leslie Rubino (FB)’s Deborah. From the opening number I was really impressed with her voice and her expression, and she had the time of her life with “Doncha Wanna Know”. She was just a delight to watch. Note: Based on her FB page, I believe we’ll be seeing her again soon in the HFF show, Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story.

Also strong was Stephanie B. Andersen (FB; FB-Fan) as Brenda, the casting agent. We’ve seen this actress before — we enjoyed her quite a bit in the 2013 bare revival — and (for the most part) she was great in both performance and singing in numbers such as “I Have This Friend.”. I particular enjoyed watching her expressions during the show. Alas, at our performance, she was having a bad night with one number (I fear she had a bad distracting headache), but knowing her strengths I’m willing to view it as a one-off, and wish her better. I’m sure every other night she knocks that number out of the park!

I enjoyed (and my wife indicated she really enjoyed) Jonathan Brett (FB)’s performance as Lee, the pizza delivery guy. He demonstrated some wonderful comic timing in his interactions and expressions, and had a strong singing voice in numbers such as “and a pizza to go”.

Rounding out the cast was Darren Mangler (FB)’s Andrew.  Mangler brought good expression and timing to his characters, but was just a tad weaker on the singing side (but that is when compared to the rest of the ensemble, meaning he was still pretty good).

Alternatives were Ashley Douglas (FB) [Brenda Alternative] and Aubrie Alexander (FB) [Deborah Alternative]. I’ll just note that we’ve seen Alexander before in Bat Boy, and I’m pretty sure that was her sitting behind us at last night’s show :-).

Lastly on the performance side: the director, Jim Blanchette (FB), had an uncredited performance as the “offscreen voices” — sitting in the audience, he provided all the unintelligible voices on the other side of the cell phone conversations. A bit odd, perhaps, but this is small intimate theatre. At least the credit gives me the chance to note that Blanchette has worked with an alum of the late great REP theatre in Santa Clarita, the also late, great Kyle Kulish.

Turning to the production side: As noted, this was a simple black box theatre. The basic scenery was solely the projections designed by Ken Cosby (FB). These worked well, although a few had me puzzling — as a freeway commuter in LA — exactly where they were taken. The lighting design was by Mark Baker (FB), who has one of the best bio’s I’ve read of late. The lighting worked well, except for the lighting during “My Superman” where odd shadows were created due to the positioning of the lights. I fear that was less Baker’s problem and more a fault of the facility, which didn’t have proper spots nor good placement locations for moving mirror lights. There were no credits for the properties, but the cardboard cars were cute. Other production credits: Wayne Moore (FB) – Musical Direction; Tamra Pica (FB) – Producer / Casting; Jonathan Harrison  – Stage Manager / Associate Producer; and John Lant  – Producing Artistic Director.

Write Act Repertory (FB)’s production of Freeway Dreams continues at the Brickhouse Theatre (FB) until Sunday, June 11. It is an enjoyable song cycle. Tickets are $15 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. The show does not appear to be listed on either Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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: May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) tonight [plus my wife is off to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB) on Sunday, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, while I work on the highway pages].

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. Not all is ticketed — we are ticketing in two groups: this weekend (¹), and right after June 1st (²), to split the charges. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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The Best Reparation Is Not Doing It Again | Allegiance Musical Broadcast

Allegiance Musical BroadcastAs you may recall, I’ve been trying to predict shows that will be going on tour. One show I’ve really been interested in is Allegiance (FB), the Broadway musical that George Takei (FB) has been involved with about the Japanese Internment during WWII. The trade papers said a tour would materialize; but the show’s website doesn’t indicate one. I’ve always expected that a tour, if it materialized, would show up at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) — or that the Ahmanson, recognizing the Japanese community in Los Angeles, might mount a local production. But the Ahmanson hasn’t announced their season yet, and the good folks behind the Broadway show felt the message was important enough to rebroadcast the musical. You see, these producers did something very intelligent. They recorded the musical about a month after it opened, and arranged to have it broadcast around the country, one time, a number of months after it closed. Through my various Broadway RSS and other feeds, I learned that they were arranging a rebroadcast this weekend — and so to hedge my bets in case it didn’t materialize on the stage, I got tickets.

What I didn’t realize, of course, was the significance of the day of the rebroadcast. Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the order that sent Japanese Americans to the internment camps. It is also in a time where there is an intense fear that a segment of our current population is dangerous just because of their religion, even when that segment are longtime American citizens. That makes the message of this show even more timely. Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President who signed the order, said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Then he gave into the fear, put US citizens into internment camps, tore away their livelihoods and homes, and regarded them as suspicious just because of their looks or their origins. It was wrong. It was unconstitutional. It was unthinkable. It must never never never happen again. And yet…. we have a large segment of our population living in fear of people because of their looks, their religion or their origin.

I’m an Engineer, but I have a confession to make. A good, compelling story does make my eyes water. Many deep Broadway shows do that — I love theatre because of its ability to tell a story and draw out the emotion. By the end of Allegiance, my jaw was quivering and I was find it hard to hold it together. That is a measure of how powerful this story is; how important it is to tell it. I can’t say to go see the show at your local theatre — alas Allegiance closed after a very short run on Broadway for whatever reason (well, the critics hated it, but what do they know). I can say to friend Allegiance‘s Facebook page so that you can find out if they ever broadcast it again. I can say you must encourage local theatres to do it, but I’m not sure it is licensed yet. We can clamor for a small tour, or push the Ahmanson or East/West to mount it. But I personally feel that this is something that must be seen, and that the critics often have problems with dark, different, and difficult material, only to appreciate it later. Remember: they hate Carrie when it first came out; now it is a great parable about bullying.

I left Allegiance appreciating the power of theatre. That is a good thing.

I guess I should tell you the story of Allegiance, which has a book by Marc Acito (FB),  Jay Kuo (FB), and Lorenzo Thione (FB), and music and lyrics by Jay Kuo (FB). According to Wikipedia, the genesis of the show was a chance meeting in the fall of 2008 of George Takei and his husband, Brad, who were seated next to Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. They met again at another show, had some conversations, and this led to the notion of a musical based roughly on George’s experiences as a child in the internment camps.  I’ll also note you can find a more detailed version on the show webpage or wikipedia. In short, the show tells the story of the Kimura family from Salinas: the grandfather (Ojii-chan), the father (Tatsuo Kimura), and the two children: Sam and Kei. It starts with Sam, who is a WWII veteran, learning that his sister Kei has died. This opens us into the story and how the rift between them was created. We see the family running a farm and having an American life, and then the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In short order, based on an agreement between the government and the Japanese American Citizens League, led by Mike Masaoka, internment orders go out, and Japanese on the Pacific coast are ordered to camps. The Kimura family has to sell all but what they can carry, and they are taken by force to a camp, Heart Mountain, in the wilds of Wyoming. We learn of life in the camp through a series of scenes, and get to meet two characters in particular: Lt. Hannah Campbell, a nurse at the camp, and Frankie Suzuki, another internee at the camp. Campbell is drawn to Sammy; Frankie to Kei. As time passes, the JACL convinces the government to let Japanese Americans serve in the armed force, in a segregated unit, for suicide missions. A questionnaire goes out that includes loyalty questions so that only loyal Japanese Americans can serve. Tatsuo refuses to answer yes to those questions, and gets hauled away to Tule Mountain. Sammy volunteers to serve (against his father’s wishes), and goes on to be one of the few survivors from that batallion. Frankie, on the other hand, resists; when drafted, he organizes resistance in the camp and is arrested. The creates the wedge that drives the story to its conclusion. I’ll let you read the synopsis for more, but you get the drift.

Given we’re in the era of identifying “fake news”, I’ll note that Wikipedia relates that the show does conflate experiences across different camps for dramatic effect, and adds a bit more military oversight than existed at Heart Mountain.

At this point in a writeup, I’d normally move into a discussion of the direction and performance. But this was a broadcast of a Broadway show, and I’d like to digress to explore that for a graph or two. Going in, I was torn. Recording a Broadway show can have some distinct advantages: it can preserve a performance for posterity; it can also make a show available in many places where this level of theater does not occur — and thus can spread the word about the power of theatre. On the other hand, it could supplant the live production, result in the undercompensation of the actors performing in the recording, and deny work to actors who might work in the local versions of the show. Coming out, I had a different view: the recording allowed on to see the performances up close and personal, in a way that wouldn’t be possible even from the orchestra seats. But it also disconnected the audience from the “big picture”; you never got the scope of the breadth of the stage or the grandeur of the choreography and movement.  The audience feedback was also very different, due to the awareness that there were no actors on stage. Unlike a show, where there is constant applause and feedback, this audience was silent, even at the end. Audience reaction is vital not only for the show but for other audience members, and I felt the different. I also felt the difference with the lack of an intermission and a playbill. In the end, I think seeing the broadcast only made me want to see it live even more.

Next: The Theatre. We saw this at the AMC Promenade theatre in Woodland Hills, which is one of the few survivors in a dying mall. The original auditorium had significant projection problems (double images) that they couldn’t correct before the show. They moved us to a different auditorium (same size, but different arrangement), which created some seating confusion but fixed most projection problems. There was still the problem of bleed-over bass from the auditorium next to us, and there was a sound synchronization problem during much of the first act. Some of this was beyond the theatre’s control, and despite the problems, they managed it well (plus they gave us passes as compensation for the problems). I think we’ll try them again. I’ll note that our show was sold out (130-some-odd seats).

Now, on to the performances, under the direction of Stafford Arima (FB). As you can tell, I was moved and astounded by all the lead performers — the projection allowed us to see things up close that we might never see from the audience. As it is hard to single them out (especially without a Playbill — if you want the Broadway experience, Fathom Events (FB) you should provide that!), let me just start by listing the leads:  George Takei (FB) [Sam Kimura (older), Ojii-chan]; Telly Leung (FB) [Sammy Kimura]; Lea Salonga (FB) [Kei Kimura]; Katie Rose Clarke  [Hannah Campbell]; Michael K. Lee  (FB) [Frankie Suzuki]; Christòpheren Nomura (FB) [Tatsuo Kimura]; and Greg Watanabe (FB) [Mike Masaoka]. With respect to their performances, I was particularly taken with the facial expressions of both Clarke and Salonga, who were just spectacular. I’d only seen Takei perform where everyone else has seen him before, and his performance here just blew me away. He was wasted at the navagation console :-). I’m always impressed by Salonga’s voice, but both Leung and Lee did great jobs as well. All and all, spectacular performances.

In small roles and ensemble parts were: Aaron J. Albano (FB) [Tom Maruyama, Ensemble]; Marcus Choi (FB) [Johnny Goto, Ensemble]; Janelle Toyomi Dote (FB) [Mrs. Maruyama, Executor, Ensemble]; Dan Horn (FB) [Recruiting Officer, Private Evans, Big Band Singer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Darren Lee (FB) [Dr. Tanaka, Ben Masaoka, Ensemble]; Kevin Munhall [Federal Agent, Private Knight, Tule Lake Guard, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Rumi Oyama (FB) [Mrs. Tanaka; Ensemble]; Shea Renne [Betsy Tanaka, Ensemble]; Momoko Sugai (FB) [Peggy Maruyama, Ensemble]; Autumn Ogawa [Ensemble]; Elena Wang (FB) [Nan Goto, Ensemble]; Scott Watanabe (FB) [Mr. Maruyama, Ensemble]; Cary Tedder [Ensemble]; and Scott Wise (FB) [Grocer, Director Dillon, Photographer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble].  With the way this was filmed, it was harder to single out particular ensemble members and smaller characters, but I enjoyed the characters overall. Particularly notable was the actress playing the older Japanese woman — I’m guessing it was Rumi Oyama, but it could have been Janelle Dote.

I am not listing the standbys, understudies, and swings as I normally do, because the show has closed and we had the cast on the film. You can find the full list here, together with the list of musicians.

The choreography was by Andrew Palermo (FB), who did an excellent job. I particularly enjoyed not only the large dance numbers but the Japanese movement as well. The movement during the Hiroshima scene was particularly chilling. The Playbill page does not give credit for the musical direction or the conducting. Orchestrations were by Lynne Shankel. Check the Playbill page for information on the dance captains, assistant dance captains, and all the associate and assistant choreographers and directors.

One disadvantage of the theatrical projection is that one cannot get the full impact of the scenic design and other production aspects. Yet another reason to go see it live. In general, the scenic design and projections worked well to establish a sense of place; given the broadcast aspects, it was hard to get a sense of sound and lights. Costumes, makeup, and hair was excellent. Here are the production credits: Donyale Werle [Scenic Design]; Alejo Vietti (FB) [Costume Design]; Howell Binkley (FB) [Lighting Design]; Darrel Maloney [Projection Design]; Kai Harada [Sound Designer]; Charles G. LaPointe [Wig and Hair Design]; Joe Dulude II [Make-up Design];  Peter Wolf  [Production Stage Manager]; and Brian Bogin [Stage Manager].

One last closing note: The production was also notable for the attention to casting asians in asian roles. I’ve commented on this before with shows like Waterfall and The King and I. I still bemoan the fact that there were sufficient Japanese actors to be able to cast closer to role-appropriate (a common problem), and I also bemoan the fact that many asian actors can only find roles in things like this, or onsie-twosie in shows. We need to remember that unless the story requires a particular ethnicity, cast color and race blind.

For the theatrical credits, I must turn to IMDB, so look here for all the cinematography credits and such.

We can only hope that Fathom Events (FB) broadcasts this again.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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 in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. Now we just need to see what the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) will do.

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