Observations Along the Road

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

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 07, 2017 @ 10:25 pm PDT

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.

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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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 29, 2017 @ 3:33 pm PDT

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.

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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

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 12, 2017 @ 8:00 pm PDT

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.

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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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 27, 2017 @ 10:39 am PDT

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 19, 2017 @ 9:23 pm PDT

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.

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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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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Pantages Theatre | Tabard Theatre Company

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Feb 07, 2017 @ 8:16 am PDT

Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. Today, the Pantages made the announcement about its 2018 season (or most of it; there were no shows announced after September 2018). Curious about how I did? Read on! Additionally, I’d like to share some thoughts on a season announcement for a great Northern California theatre.

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Back in December, I summarized the shows that I thought were going on tour based on the announcements that I had seen, and I predicted the following:

There are numerous other shows currently coming to Broadway that I expect to tour, but I think they would be 2018-2019 at best. So how do I predict the seasons to work out? Here are my predictions:

  • Ahmanson 2017-2018 Season: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, The Humans, Something Rotten, Waitress, and possibly the Fiddler revival, Allegiance, or a pre-Broadway musical.
  • Pantages 2017-2018 Season: Disney’s Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, Bright Star, Matilda, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Color Purple, and possibly On Your Feet.

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list. So I think I did pretty good. Here’s what was announced for the Pantages season. I’m sure they will have some fill-in shows to announce, but those might be more retreads:

  • Disney’s Aladdin, The Musical. January 10 – March 31, 2018. What is there to say? This is the upsized full-Broadway version. It is clearly a Pantages show that they expect to be a hit, given a 3 month run.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies. April 3-22, 2018. This is the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I wasn’t that crazy about. It has not played Broadway yet. I will admit I’m curious on this one, so I’ll give it a try. I was expecting they might program the long running tour of Phantom before this production, but they barely have time to do the load-out/load-in after Aladdin. They can’t even squeeze it in before Aladdin, as Hamilton ends on December 30, 2017, and Aladdin starts January 10.
  • School of Rock: The Musical. May 3 – 27, 2018. Currently on Broadway, and I enjoy the music quite a bit (and that is even with the knowledge that this is an Andrew Lloyd Webber show).
  • The Color Purple: The Musical. May 29 – June 17, 2018. This is the deconstructed and re-conceived revival that received such good reviews on Broadway; I haven’t listened to the album of this version yet. I’m looking forward to this.
  • On Your Feet: The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical. July 6 – 29, 2018. Surely to be a crowd-pleaser in Los Angeles. I’ve heard the music, and this should be good.
  • Waitress. August 2-26, 2018. This is the one show I had predicted for the Ahamanson instead, but I can see why the Pantages grabbed it — given it is the first musical by Sara Bareilles, it will bring in the kids. I’ve heard the music, and I’m looking forward to it.

A few additional notes: The Pantages has left very few holes for fill-in programming — really only the last week of April, and the latter half of June. There will be perhaps some pop-up concerts there, but a three-week run is unlikely. Expect them to add shows from September 2018 on, but that may be in their next season announcement. Regarding my predictions (which I’ll update), I think Bright Star might go to the Ahmanson. Matilda, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserables will likely wait for the 2018-2019 Pantages season instead — the first because it was already at the Ahmanson; the latter two because they are really more Pantages shows (plus Les Miz was already at the Ahmanson).

More details, and information on subscription packages, is here.

☛ 🎱 ☚

Back in 2014, we saw an excellent production of The Immigrant from Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose. A few weeks ago, I received their announcement of their 17th season, and all I can say is that if I lived in the area, it would be worthy of subscription. We may even drive up for one of the shows (Adrift in Macao), it’s that good. Here’s their season:

  • PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. September 15 – October 8, 2017. Written by Rick Elice. Music by Wayne Barker. Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers”. Tony Award-winning play! Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 engaging and unforgettable characters, through this play with music we learn how Peter Pan earned his flight credentials and how a mustachioed pirate became Captain Hook. — We saw the tour of this when it was at the Ahmanson, and it was great. This should be a smaller production, but this is a show well suited to that.
  • MOM’S GIFT. October 27 – November 19, 2017. Written by Phil Olson. Northern California Premiere! In this comedy with a heart, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. — We saw the world premiere of this at Group Rep, and it was excellent.
  • HOLIDAY AT THE SAVOY. December 1 – December 17, 2017 Created by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta & Gus Kambeitz. World Premiere! It’s December 1945, New York City — the first post-war holiday season at the famous Savoy ballroom in Harlem where singers, dancers, and musicians put on an exciting floor show filled with the swinging sounds and steps of the day in Savoy style. — I haven’t heard of this, but it sounds quite interesting with good music.
  • EVELYN IN PURGATORY. January 12 – January 28, 2018. Written by Topher Payne. West Coast Premiere! When a complaint is filed against one of the 70,000 teachers in New York’s public schools, they’re sent to a Reassignment Center. There, they sit and wait for their case to be reviewed. Based on real teacher “rubber rooms” in New York City, this surprising and engaging dramatic comedy follows five teachers one school year while they await their hearing. — Sounds like an interesting play. One of the reasons to subscribe to seasons is to see plays you might not normally go to on your own. This sounds like one of those.
  • THE MIRACLE WORKER. February 16 – March 11, 2018. Tony Award winner by William Gibson based on Helen Keller’s biography “The Story of My Life”. 20-year old Annie Sullivan embarked on a journey that would change the life of her charge, Helen Keller, who would, in turn, change the lives of others for generations. The Miracle Worker reveals the power of commitment and strength when the choice is made to reach beyond the understandable and tangible. — This is the play that made Patty Duke’s career. A classic. I haven’t see it in years, but it is a great story.
  • ADRIFT IN MACAO. April 13 – May 6, 2018. Book and Lyrics by Christopher Durang; Music by Peter Melnick. Bay Area Premiere! With a drop-dead funny book and shamefully silly lyrics and lethally catchy music, this fast-paced musical, set in 1952 Macao, China, lovingly parodies the Hollywood film noir classics of the 1940s and ’50s. — I have heard the music from this, and truly want to see the show. It hasn’t been done in LA, at least that I’m aware of. I may work a visit to the Bay Area in my schedule to go see this.

As I noted before, I’d subscribe for this season, it looks that good. They are just too far away for me. But perhaps not for you. Tabard is in San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. Tabard’s pricing for Early Bird tickets (until May 17, 2017) isn’t that bad: between $69 for students to $205 for their “caberet” seating; $159 is the basic adult ticket, meaning about $26.50 a ticket. Subscription information is here.

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Todo un mundo nuevo | “Aladdin Dual Language” @ Casa 0101

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jan 22, 2017 @ 10:08 am PDT

Aladdin (Dual Language) at Casa 0101January is a hard month for which to book theatre. Shows are loathe to rehearse over the holidays, and there is fatigue amongst theatre goers. My birthday was on a Saturday night in January this year, and so we were casting about for just the right show to go to — something fun, something musical, something memorable. Every other weekend had something, but for this weekend nothing felt right.

Until magic happened. A listing came across Goldstar for something very intriguing: a dual-language version of the Disney musical Aladdin, where the people in the palace spoke Spanish, and the people in the street spoke English. The conceit was that the evil vizir, Jafar, did this to sew confusion amongst the people and gain additional power. This conceit even got written up in the Los Angeles Times, which noted the family-friendly concept first premiered at Theatre Under the Stars (FB) in Houston in 2009. It was being done at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB), whose mission is provide inspiring theater performances, art exhibits and educational programs – to Boyle Heights, thereby nurturing the future storytellers of Los Angeles who will someday transform the world. For those unfamiliar with the area, Boyle Heights is the original immigrant home in Los Angeles. It is where the first synagogue was in Los Angeles, was home to Russia, German, and Japanese immigrants (we had a delightful dinner in the last remaining Japanese restaurant down the street), and is now multiethnic, but primarily Hispanic.

This sounded fascinating, and as it was my birthday and my choice, guess where we were last night. It was a transformative experience, not only for the audience in attendance, but for us as well. We had been having a really bad week with home maintenance issues and such, and this evening and experience completely lifted our spirits. We even bought some artwork from their gallery.

So, Disney’s Aladdin, or to be precise, Aladdin Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual, is based off the licensed Aladdin Jr. version from MTI. This is very different from the version that was done at the theme parks, and it is different from the version that is currently running on Broadway. It is based on the animated film, but   includes some songs that were cut from the film and changes the story slightly (and of course, the dual-language version changes it even more). The basic structure of the Aladdin Jr. version can be found in the Wikipedia synopsis. The key change here is that the narrators become three translators, able to move between the two languages and clarify for the audiences; the talking animals, similarly, have the power of translation.  The palace royalty and servants speak Spanish, the common people in the market speak English.

(The Dual Language version has a book by Jim Luigs, José Cruz González, music by Alan Menkin, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with lyric translation by Walterio Pezqueira (FB))

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking: I’m not fluent in Spanish, how can I understand the show. You don’t need to be. I find it neat to listen to shows in other languages: I have recordings of Les Miserables in the original French, Hair in both Hebrew and French, and my favorite: a recording of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Other languages become like a poetry, a melodic flow that combines with performance and movement to tell the story. It is truly magic to see.

Casa 0101 Aladdin Cast - Pictures from various sources including Casa0101 Facebook PageUnder the direction of Rigo Tejeda (FB), this talented cast of 24 make the magic onstage. This is not to say there are 24 at every performance: the lead roles (Aladdin, Jazmin, Genie, Jafar) are dual-cast and alternate performance. Tejeda’s direction brings a wonderful energy and sense of fun to the production; there is a clear sense that this cast is having a great time doing the show and enthralling the audiences. It projects, amplifies, and makes magic. The direction also makes the jumping back and forth between the languages seamless; overall, the cast is to be commended for being able to handle both languages so well.

In the lead positions of our lovers are Michael Torrenueva/FB (at our performance, alternating with Daniel Martinez) as Aladdin, and Valeria Maldonado (FB) (at our performance, alternating with Sarah Kennedy (FB)) as Princess Jazmin. Torrenueva was extremely spirited and dashing, exuding charm; Maldonado’s Jazmin was lovely and playful and mischevious; again, with a strong singing voice. The two were just a delight to watch.

The evil side of the equation was played by Omar Mata/FB (at our performance, alternating with Luis Marquez/FB) as Jafar, supported by Jason David/FB‘s puppetry of Iago. Mata was a towering presence (at least a foot taller than any other player) who exuded evil in both look and performance. He was given a song, “Why Me?”, that was cut from the original animated movie and does not appear in the Broadway version.

The magic came from the Genie — at our performance, Finley Polynice (FB), alternating with Lewis Powell III/FB. High energy, playful, great singing voice, wonderful dancing. He also had a really great comedic style.

In supporting positions were Sebastian Gonzalez/FB as Apu, the monkey, and Rosa Navarrete (FB) as Raja, the tiger. These two handled the job of translation quite well, and had wonderful facial expressions and reactions, combined with strong dancing. Also serving a translation role were the three narrators/translators, Diana Castrillon (FB), Blanca Espinoza/FB, and Shanara Sanders (FB). Great singing, great dancing, great facial expressions, and just a delight to watch.

Also supporting the leads were Danielle Espinoza (FB) as the magic carpet, Henry Madrid/FB as the Sultan, and Evan Garcia/FB, as Razul the Captain of the Guards.  Espinoza’s role was primarily dance and movement; she excelled at this as well as with her facial expressions. Madrid’s Sultan showed his experience — he had the right aura of authority, fun, and fatherhood.

On top of all the above, however, the magic of this production was cemented by the ensemble: Andrew Cano/FB, Alejandro Lechuga/FB, Jesse Maldonado (FB), Bryant Melton (FB), Mariana Rocio Petersen/FB, Jocelyn Sanchez/FB, and Andrea Somera (FB). They were high energy, strong dancers, playful in the background, with with great voices — in particular, Somera who had a voice that just shone through the songs.

The movement was choreographed by Tania Possick (FB), who did a wonderful job in the small black-box space. The dances were delightful to watch.

The production was under the music direction of Caroline Benzon (FB), assisted by Jerry Blackburn (FB). During the performance, the music was prerecorded. I do not know if the tracks were those provided by MTI, or whether they were recorded specifically for this performance. The program does not make this clear. The music was adapted, arranged, and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle (FB).

Turning to the production side: Cesar Holguin (FB)’s scenic design was relatively simple, but worked quite well when combined with Karlo Ishibashi (FB)’s properties and Yee Eun Nam (FB)’s projections. Alysha Bermudez/FB‘s sound design was clear and had a reasonable balance between voice and music. Sohail e. Najafi (FB)’s lighting design focused attention appropriately and established the mood well. Abel Alvarado (FB)’s costume design combined with Jules Bronola/G+‘s costumes to establish locale. They were sexy as appropriate, with the only drawback being the alas-too-requisite banding to hold sound equipment. Completing the production credits are: Jerry Blackburn (FB) – Stage Manager; Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera/FB – Assistant Stage Manager; Angelique Enos/FB – Spotlight Operator; Luis Gaudi (FB) – Photographer; Steve Moyer Public Relations – Publicist; Edward Padilla (FB) – Casting; Vincent A. Sanchez – Associate Lighting Designer; Soap Studio Inc. – Graphic Design; Tony Velis – Puppet Design; George Villanueva/FB – Spotlight Operator. Aladdin was presented by Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) and TNH Productions (FB), in association with Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo (FB), and produced by Abel Alvarado (FB), Felipe Agredano (FB), Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla (FB), Rigo Tejeda (FB), and Conrado Terrazas (FB).

Aladdin – Dual Language Edition / Edición de Lenguaje Dual continues at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) through February 19, 2017, and there are hopes to extend if funding permits (so donate). Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website, or by calling the Casa 0101 box office at  323.263.7684 between the hours of 11AM to 6PM M-F.  Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I 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: January ends with Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals.; we’re also seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. 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, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. March may also bring Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) as that gets shifted from April. Speaking of April, it will hopefully start with a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). 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 Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). 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) announces February 7th.

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Pressing Out Meaning | “Gutenberg, The Musical” @ Backyard Renaissance

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 29, 2016 @ 9:51 am PDT

Gutenberg, The Musical! (Backyard Renaissance)userpic=theatre_ticketsThe ideas for musicals come from the many places. Books. Movies. More movies. Far too many movies.  Grey Gardens came from a documentary about a crazy heiress.  [title of show] came from a festival application. Then there is the show we saw last night from Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego: Gutenberg, The Musical! It came from, well, a slush pile of bad musical submissions.

Perhaps I should explain this a bit more. Scott Brown and Anthony King (FB), who wrote the show, were Junior High School friends who were working as interns at theatre companies. They were tasked with attending new musicals, and reading through the slush pile of submitted musicals and unsolicited demo recordings of musicals. They were seeing bad musicals. Really bad musicals. They began to wonder how the authors of those musicals didn’t realize they were so bad. So, they decided to write their own intentionally bad musical. They would figure out the absolute worse subject for a musical and go for it. As Hitler was already taken, they went with Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press.  It died. They reworked it for Upright Citizens Brigade. It lived. They expanded it to 45 minutes, then to a full-length off-Broadway show. They recorded a cast album.

I should say upfront that this show is bad. But bad in a good sense. Think about Batman in the 1960s. The show was bad but in an intentional way, in a way that played up the knowledge that you were in on the joke that it was bad, and so you went along for the ride, and it ended up being good, and in fact making a positive and deep commentary on a number of things. Well, perhaps not that far. But it was bad in an intentionally funny way, and that made it good.

Here’s an example that perhaps illustrates this. Early in this show, one character is secretly in love with another character, and offers to make him some lamb stew. He replies, “I love ewe.”. She hears “I love you.”  Yup. Do we go out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song, that help. But not much.

In any case, Gutenberg, The Musical! is presented as a musical about Gutenberg. But it is not presented as a traditional musical. Rather, it is presented as a backer’s audition, with the two ostensible authors playing all the roles (in the spirit of Murder for Two). How do you tell the myriad of characters apart? Each character has their own hat. A baseball cap. With their character stenciled on it.

As the story of Gutenberg himself doesn’t cry out for musicalization, the authors go the historical fiction route. They set the story in the fictional berg of Schlimmer, Germany. That should be a clue right there. They invent a fictional love interest, a buxom blond wench named Helvetica. They invent an antagonist, an evil (or should that be eeeeevil bwah ha ha) monk named, well, Monk. They invent a deep and meaningful commentary they want to make — since this is Germany, they must mention the holocaust. And they come up with a story: Gutenberg wants to make people read, and so invents the Printing Press. Monk wants to keep people stupid so he can tell them what is right and wrong without them knowing (and remember, boys and girls, that Monk almost rhymes with Trump). Helvetica loves Gutenberg, but is afraid of losing her wine-pressing job and him after he invents the printing press, and so falls under Monk’s spell (after listening to Trump’s, I mean, Monk’s, lies) and destroys the press. You can take it from there.

So the story is campy. Intentionally campy. Aside from the hats, there is continual breaking of the fourth wall, continually skewering of musical conventions and existing musicals, inspired sillyness (such as the water schprizting bottle), and, well, everything you would expect at a bad backers audition. In doing so, Gutenberg does something similar to [title of show] — it exposes the side of theatre that is rarely seen: the developmental side. What Gutenberg is demonstrating is what many musicals go through, and what many potential producers have to suffer through: the backers audition that can be both great and horrifying at the same time. The badness of the musical proposal combines with the earnestness of the authors to create something bigger than itself. You might say that it becomes a monster in its own right, but I wouldn’t go that far … and here’s why.

When you scrape off the veneer of bad backers audition, and think about what it being said, there is a deeper valid commentary being made (just as the wine press presses out the good juice from the grapes). The commentary has nothing to do with the holocaust, but with the importance of reading, knowledge, and independent thinking over just listening to the platitudes of misguided leaders. In the story, Monk intentionally wants to keep the village and the villagers stupid, so that he can exert his power over them by telling them what he wants them to think their books of authority say. Does that sound familiar? I’ve alluded to Trump before, because I think it is a clear analogy. We get political leaders who want to tell us what the Constitution says, what they believe our laws say, what they think we should do. Another example: I’ve recently been in some discussions with anti-Vaxxers (which will be my next blog post). They’ve been brainwashed by leaders who tell them what the science says, what the statistics means. Never mind whether it is true or not — these people tell them what they want them to hear to serve their own ends. Gutenberg, on the other hand, wants transparency and critical thinking. He doesn’t want to tell the people how to think — he wants them to be able to read and think about it on their own, to come up with their own opinions and understanding. He knows that what will make the true technological revolution is not a piece of machinery, but what that machinery enables. Beneath all of the camp of this musical is a deep message about the power of independent critical reading and analysis over the tyranny of ignorance. And that, friends, is a wonderful and true message.

Now, a story is nothing if it isn’t performed well. Our two erstwhile authors, Scott and Anthony, well, Doug and Bud (as the characters are named) are played by Anthony Methvin (FB) [Doug] and Tom Zohar (FB) [Bud]. These two young men bring the right amount of earnestness, sillyness, and talent to the role, believably coming the authors of the musical. They handle all the different hats they have to wear well, rapidly becoming all the different characters. Including rats and dead babies. Also notable is the cat, Biscuit, whose bio is hilarious. I figure he has a big future on Broadway.

The scenic design is understandably…. nothing. A piano. A folding table covered in hats, with a few props underneath it. This design, together with the simplistic props, comes from the Executive and Artistic directors of BRT — Jessica John Gerke (FB) and Francis Gerke (FB). The real “set” comes from the wide variety of hats, which serve as the “costumes” — which were also designed by Jessica John Gerke (FB). I’d say they were an inventive idea, but considering the cover of the cast album, my guess is that they were at least inspired by the original UCB design. Nevertheless, they were executed well and worked great for the story — and were incorporated well into the staging of director Kim Strassburger (FB) and the dance/movement of choreographer Katie Whalley Banville (FB). A little elaboration on that: although these were just two guys wearing hats, they were doing so in extremely inventive ways: such as a line of hats on a string for a chorus line, or literally wearing many hats at one time. There were commentaries on large dance numbers in musicals, on pointless charm songs, and much more — all executed in a humorous and entertaining fashion that wasn’t necessarily part of the script. That, I believe, is what the director and choreographer brought to this show.

On to the piano. There is no explicit credit for the on-stage pianist, so presumably it was the music director Lyndon Pugeda (FB). It looks like him at least (although he needs to update his official website — it dates to 2012 and references (heaven forfend) Myspace). Although not a formal character, he played with the actors and provided quite a few humorous moments of his own. Plus he played the keys well.

Back to the production credits. There was no credit for sound design; as there were no sound effects, there might not have been any sound design. Lighting design was by Curtis Mueller (FB), and worked within the restrictions of the space — a few lekos, a few scrollers, and what looked like a moving mirror spot. Then again, this was a backers audition — you don’t need a lot of lighting effects. Anthony Methvin (FB) was the producing director, and Taylor Todd (FB) was the stage manager. Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) is under the artistic direction of Jessica John Gerke (FB) and the executive direction of  Francis Gerke (FB).

Gutenberg! The Musical! continues at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego’s University Park community through September 4th. Tickets are available through the BRT website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. It is worth seeing.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). 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:  September returns to conventional theatre. The second weekend sees us back at Muse/ique (FB) for Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend brings I Love You Because at the Grove Theatre in Burbank. The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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