Observations Along the Road

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

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.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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.

--- *** ---

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.

☛ 🎱 ☚

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.

--- *** ---

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.

* * *

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.

--- *** ---

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.

* * *

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.

--- *** ---

Let’s Hear It For The Boys 🎩 “The Boy from Oz” @ Celebration

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 12, 2016 @ 5:14 pm PDT

The Boy from Oz (Celebration Theatre)userpic=theatre_musicals

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

That’s the opening of Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities… and an opening I’ve used before. This time, let’s call this The Tale of Two Boys. Both Boys, as it happens, are from Oz. They happen to be from two different cities. They both happen to be excellent, each in its own way. And there, my friends, is the real tale.

Back in May, we had two theatres, one in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco, both staging what was essentially the West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz, a musical based on the life of Peter Allen, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen*, and book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright (Additional music and lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Michael Callen, Christopher Cross, David Foster, Tom Keane, Marsha Malamet, Dean Pitchford, and Carole Bayer Sager). I say “essentially”, because they opened a day apart, about the time it would take to drive from one theatre to the other during rush hour.

We had originally been planning to go to see Celebration Theatre (FB) version of The Boy from Oz in LA, which I had learned about back at the beginning of the year. But then I was scheduling a trip to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation, and what pops up but another version of The Boy from Oz: this one from  Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). So we scheduled that and released our informal hold date for Oz in LA. Then we saw (a) the production in San Francisco, and (b) the rave reviews that Celebration was getting, and we decided to compare and contrast. On paper, the presenting companies and productions  were very different. Landmark was a new company (their 2nd musical), in a large theatre (399 seats) that hadn’t hosted a musical before, with minuscule budget, weak lighting and sound infrastructure, and a Bay Area acting pool.  Celebration, on the other hand, was an established company with loads of musical experience, in a much smaller theatre (55 seats) with better infrastructure, the very talented Los Angeles acting pool, and a strong publicity machine.

You know what? As I said before, both productions were excellent. Each had their own unique strengths and their own weaknesses, and neither had weaknesses that reached the level of significant problems.

Here’s the synopsis of the show I wrote less than a month ago:

If you are unfamiliar with The Boy from Oz, that’s not a surprise. The musical opened in Australia in 1998, and moved to Broadway in 2004, where it won a Tony for an actor you might have heard of: Hugh Jackman (FB). However, the show never went on tour, and the regional producing rights in America were not released until this year. So the show has faded from popular memory, much like the subject of the show, Peter Allen.  The show itself is a jukebox musical, using the songs of Peter Allen to tell the life-story of Peter Allen. This is a story that starts in the outback of Australia in Tenterfield, New South Wales. It includes Allen’s stint as part of the  It includes both Judy Garland, the mentor who discovered Allen in Hong Kong and for whom Allen was a protégé, and Liza Minnelli (FB), Garland’s daughter whom Allen married shortly after her success in Flora the Red Menace. It is a story of the birth of gay awareness, as Allen realizes he is homosexual during the marriage, and the birth of the gay movement including the Stonewall Riots that occurred shortly after Garland’s death. It is the story of Allen going out as a solo act, and hitting his peak popularity in the 1980s. And it is the story of AIDS, with the death of Allen’s lover, Greg Connell, from AIDS, followed by the death of Allen himself. It is a celebration of the life of Peter Allen.

The show features many of Allen’s better known songs, including “When I Get My Name In Lights”, “The Best That You Can Do”, “Continental American”, “She Loves to Hear the Music”, “Bi-Coastal”, “Everything Old is New Again”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Still Call Australia Home”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, and “I Go to Rio”. You’ll know the songs, even if you don’t know Allen.

The Celebration version, under the direction of Michael A. Shepperd (FB) [assisted by Kyle Cooper (FB)] and choreography of Janet Roston (FB) [assisted by Michael Quiett/FB] had a distinctly stronger staging and spectacular dance. Although Celebration’s space was smaller and had fewer set pieces, they made extremely good use of the pieces they had (more on that in a bit). More significantly, their level of dance was head and shoulders above San Francisco in terms of both design and execution.  San Francisco’s dancing was good, but lacked precision. Here, the dance was spot-on, energetic, precise, and just… wow. The Rockettes scene and the Fosse scene will just blow you away with the dance. I think this was a product of having a much stronger dance talent pool available, and having stronger dance experience working with that crew to design the dance. About my only dance quibble was: where were the taps, especially in the opening number. When we are seeing tap dance, we should be hearing tap dance. As for the staging, well, it oozed sex in a way that only Hollywood and West Hollywood can. San Francisco was tame compared to the sexiness here.

The Boy From Oz - Publicity PhotosThe Celebration production stared Andrew Bongiorno (FB) as Peter Allen. From the very start, I noticed Bongiorno’s charisma with the audience, and my wife commented that he was just giving off a very sexy vibe. Whereas Dan Seda (FB), Landmark’s Peter and their only AEA performer, was good with a wonderful singing voice, and a warm and accessible performance, Bongiorno was just outstanding — strong vocals, strong movement, according to my wife oozing testosterone, flirty, playful, and just everything you would expect Peter Allen to be. Further, unlike Seda, he didn’t have to fake an Aussie accent — he was from Victoria, Australia. No “shrimps on the barbee” here. He did a particularly great job on “Only an Older Woman”.

Another strong performer in the Celebration version was Bess Motta (FB) as Judy Garland. Motta captured Garland’s mannerisms and voice and look with turning the performance into caricature. When I saw the Landmark production with  Connie Champagne (FB) as Garland, something bothered me. The face seemed too stiff, the movement too stylized.  Motta made me realize the difference by being real — by being able to portray both the warmth and the hatred behind Garland. She came across as a real Garland, and her performance made me see the difference between becoming a character vs. impersonating a character.

On the other hand, there was Jessica Pennington (FB)’s Liza Minnelli. Although Pennington gave a very strong performance, with excellent vocals and emoting, she just didn’t become Minnelli (especially in the first act; she had grown a little bit more into the role in the second act). Landmark’s Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB), did a stronger job of capturing the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style.  Robichaud wasn’t perfect — she needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days. Minnelli is a hard part to cast right and get right. Landmark casted for the young Minnelli — the kooky teenager of Flora the Red Menace and The Sterile Cuckoo. They got that right, but that gave them difficulty in the second act when you need the much older Minnelli who has started to see it all. Celebration cast for the older Minnelli, which made the first act Minnelli completely off the game. So, although both were good, I’ll give the Minnelli point to the Bay Area team.

There’s one other point where I felt the Bay Area was stronger in terms of performance: Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)). Although Celebration’s Greg, Michael Mittman (FB) gave an excellent performance with strong vocals and emotions, Hardin’s Greg had that magical strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him, with a spectacular singing voice, and looks that were just … I normally don’t say this, but wow.

If you’re keeping score in the lead roles, all the performances were good, but we have two points given to Celebration for spot on strong casting, and two given to Landmark for the same thing.

There was one other significant casting strength for Landmark: their young Peter Allens, who were excellent tap dancers and believably young versions of their older Allen. Yes, they did tap — tap up a storm, as a matter of fact. Celebration went a different direction on casting, choosing the young Michayla Brown. The young Ms. Brown was a talented performer, but wasn’t believably a younger version of their Peter Allen, which impacted the suspension of disbelief. She also, alas, didn’t have taps.

Rounding out some of the named characters were Marcus S. Daniel (FB)’s Chris Allen, Michael Taylor Gray‘s Dee, and Kelly Lester (FB)’s Marion Woolnough.  All gave strong performances, in particular, Lester’s impressive performance in “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.  Landmark’s Maron ( Amy Meyers (FB)) was good, but Lester just had the right note of authenticity in her portrayal. Daniel gave a strong performance as Allen’s “Brother” Chris; although the size difference elminated the belief that they were brothers I’ll note Daniel was a hoot in the Rockette’s number. You’ll just have to see it. Gray’s Dee was suitably grizzled.

Rounding out the cast as other named characters and ensemble members were Nathan Mohebbi (FB) (Mark and others), Erica Hanrahan-Ball (FB) (Karen and others), Chelsea Martin (FB) (Linelle and others), and Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) (Shena and others).  It was in the latter three ensemble members — Erica, Chelsea, and Shanta — that Celebration just took this production over the top. Landmark had a larger ensemble with mostly weaker talent (they had one good ensemble member). Celebration’s, although smaller, was supersized in talent and dance. The small size of the Celebration space permitted the audience to hear the voices on these three — all were just great. Strong — perhaps exceptional — singers, sexy dancers, with a charisma that showed they were having fun. Oh, and could they smile. These girls are one of the highlights of the show. About my only comment was that there was a uniformity of dancer builds, but that’s how it was in that period.

Mat J. Hayes and Alli Miller (FB) were the swings. Marcus S. Daniel (FB) was the dance captain.

The on-stage band at the Celebration was smaller than the Landmark production, but had significantly better sound. I think that is because Celebration used the right instruments. In other words, Landmark had separate reed and trumpet players. Celebration combined the two with one player, but went with a saxophone instead of a trumpet. Celebration also had the string player cover both guitar and bass; Landmark tried to get away with only the bass. The net result: the Celebration had music that just blasted you away and had the full-size Broadway sound. Credit goes to the musical director, Bryan Blaskie (FB), on keyboard, and his musicians: Omar D. Brancato (bass/guitar), Noelle Fabian (saxophone/clarinet), and Stephen Dizon/FB (drums).

Turning now to the creative and production team. The scenic design is one area where there was the starkest differentiation between the two companies, owing to the difference in facilities. Both had limitations — Celebration in terms of a space that was perhaps one-third of Landmarks, with no flyspace; Landmark with a large space in an cavernous hall with concrete walls and musical theatre lighting at the middle-school level. Each made their space work, but in different ways. Landmarks showcase was a large baby grand piano (mostly styrofoam) with large musical note risers, and some projections on the back curtains. Celebration’s scenic design, by Yuri Okahana, was very different. Okahana had an upright piano — perhaps a spinnet. There were some stairs on the side that served as tables and such when needed, but it was mostly the actors front and center that created the impression of where you were. This mostly worked, although I found myself longing at times for Landmark’s projections to give a better idea of where we were in the world — the outback, Hong Kong, New York, etc.  Both worked, but very very different conceptions of their space. Celebration was significantly stronger in terms of sound (design by Eric Snodgrass) and light (design by Derrick McDaniel). Here the significantly stronger facilities and experience paid off handsomely, although Celebration’s space is limited in terms of spotlights, which require a moving mirror system. Landmark could use a real spotlight, although they didn’t have a sufficient light to be able to tightly focus. Another production aspect in which Celebration was significantly stronger was in the costumes of Michael Mullen. Landmark’s costumes were low-budget. Creative, but low-budget. Celebration’s costumes gave no idea of the budget: they were flashy, they were sexy, they were seemingly era-appropriate… on or off, they just worked right and made the characters shinge. Similarly, Bryon Batista‘s wigs and hair just worked right and didn’t appear to be wigs.  Rounding out the production credits were: Michael O’Hara (Properties Design), Jennifer Leigh Sears (Production Stage Manager), and Jillian Mayo (Alternate Stage Manager).

Celebration Theatre (FB)’s The Boy From Oz has been extended into July, and you should get your tickets now (through the Celebration website) before they sell out. I’d mention Goldstar,  but they are already sold out. This is an excellent production from an excellent company, and you should go see it. As for the San Francisco production: we saw the next to last performance, and they have already closed their short run. If you’re in the Bay Area and reading this, you missed your chance. C’mon down to LA and see this great production, and then make a note to support Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s future productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. As for what is in Celebration’s future: they are about to announce their next season, so stay tuned…

* * *

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) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. 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.

--- *** ---

Musical History | “I Only Have Eyes for You” @ The Montalban

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 30, 2016 @ 11:23 am PDT

I Only Have Eyes for You (Montalban)userpic=theatre_ticketsMany years ago, a friend of mine noted that the phrase “I Only Have Eyes for You” could accommodate putting the word “only” between (or before or after) any word in the phrase, creating subtle differences in meaning.

I’ll wait while you try it out. After all, I have only eyes for you.

An exercise like this shows the importance of where you put the emphasis when you write something. “I have only eyes for you” is very different from “Only I have eyes for you”, which is different from “I have eyes for only you.” Place the emphasis wrong, and your intent is trashed.

I mention this because yesterday afternoon we were at The Montalban Theatre (FB) (nee the Doolittle, nee the Huntington Hartford) to see the musical “I Only Have Eyes for You: The Life and Lyrics of Al Dubin“, with book by Jerry Leichtling (FB) and Arlene Sarner (FB), music mostly by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Dubin. The musical was well executed, presented loads of talent, and marvelous singing and dancing. However the story was…. creaky. It is clear that the emphasis was placed on the music and the singing and dancing, not on the story and its presentation. Those familiar with musicals will tell you that great music and great dancing can get you far, but what makes a musical succeed in the long term is telling a good story, and leaving the audience with some form of feeling.

In between all the songs from the wonderful Al Dubin song catalog (yes, this was a jukebox musical), the production attempts to tell the life story of the songwriter, Al Dubin. Arguably, the choice of doing that particular story creates the risk of the Mack and Mabel curse: how do you tell a story when the ending is a downer? Mack and Mabel had that problem because the two people you wanted to see together end up apart, with Mabel Normand dying of health problems at the age of 37. Try and feel good after that. In this story, nor matter how you cut it, you end up with Al Dubin entering a spiral down of drugs and alcohol, and dying on the street after having taken a large quantity of doctor-prescribed barbiturates.

Take the downer of a story, and add to it the creakiness of a traditional 1930s musical that tries to be upbeat over everything, and you have…. 42nd Street (which will open at the Pantages down the street tomorrow). More importantly, however, you have a musical that is out of date with the times. In contrast to old musicals that were designed to keep smiling through the pain, to keep dancing, to stay upbeat, new musicals are designed to tell real stories and relate to real life. The pains and foibles remain in the story. The tone and superficiality date the book of I Only Have Eyes for You. That, more than anything, is why I characterized the story as creaky.

I should also note that it is unclear the extent to which the story presented it truthful. Specifically, the book posits a World War I experience as driving Dubin’s spiral down. Yet a web search shows no such incident in Dubin’s life; in fact, the timing of some of the elements of the story as presented do not agree with the real story. Taking artistic license with the facts does happen, but usually it is acknowledged as such.

Lastly, this is a jukebox musical. That means you have to take songs not intended to tell a story, and somehow shoehorn them into to a story context. Sometimes it works; usually it doesn’t. For this show, that means that the songs that are performed as part of the historical context work well; the ones that attempt to propel the story often fall a little flat, primarily because Dubin tended not to be autobiographical in his tunes. Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths rarely were.

This doesn’t mean the show is bad. The performances and the music outshine the weak book. This is a show that might play well on the road, especially to the older theatre audience familiar with the music. The creaky book would limit the life of the show on Broadway; but with a two-week run, this could be spectacular.

The cast for this show, under the direction and choreography of Kay Cole, was uniformly excellent. In the lead positions were Jared Gertner (FB)  as Al Dubin and Nikki Bohne (FB) as Helen McClay Dubin.  Gertner exuded an easy-going charm as Dubin — you could see how his playfulness and creativity were there to take him far. The problem was that his personality was perhaps too bright and bubbly; his darker side and demons didn’t come across as dark as they needed to be to take him in the direction that he went. This might have been sanitization for the sake of story; it might have been direction that wanted to keep things up. Whichever it was, although Gertner clearly tried, the downside was more of a Foster Brooks downside than a deep depression. Gertner’s singing and dancing were uniformly excellent and just a delight to watch. I liked his rendition of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”; for some reason, I thought that was a Jacques Brel song. Bohne’s Helen played off of Gertner’s Al quite well. She was perky, bubbly, and playful. You could easily see that Ms. Bohne was enjoying this role tremendously. She had a truly wonderful singing voice, demonstrated in…. well, everyone of her songs.  She was also a strong dancer.

In the second tier of characters, we have Kayla Parker (FB)’s Ruby Keeler and Constantine Rousouli (FB)’s Harry Warren. Parker’s Keeler was great — a singing and dancing powerhouse. Just a delight to watch in numbers like “A Cup of Coffee” or “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me”. Rousouli’s Warren was a bit stiffer, but still strong. He had a voice that was surprisingly deep, as shown in “Don’t Give Up The Ship”.

The remaining cast tended to play multiple characters or rotate through the ensemble: Valerie Perri (FB) (Minna Dubin / Monica / Ensemble); Renee Marino (FB) (Carmen Miranda / Ensemble); Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) (Patrick / Ensemble); Robert Pieranunzi (FB) (Busby Berkeley / Goldberg / Ensemble); Dominic Pierson (FB) (William / Ensemble); Elijah Rock (FB) (Cab Calloway / Bandleader / Ensemble); Justin Michael Wilcox (FB) (Simon / Al Jolson / Ensemble); Julian DeGuzman (FB) (Syd / Ensemble); Kim Taylor (FB) (Ensemble); Katherine Tokarz (FB) (Ensemble); and Karl Warden (FB) (Ensemble). Daniel May (FB) and Penny Wildman (FB) were the Swings. Notable in this crew were Rock’s Cab Calloway, Marino’s Miranda, Perri’s Minna. They each had essentially solos, and each was just great. Also strong were the male dancers: DeGuzman, Warden, Wilcox, and Pierson, although for some the costumes were a bit, well, ummm, let’s say “out there”. All of the ensemble were called upon to do tap dancing, and they did an excellent job of it. You don’t see tap dancing as much these days; I miss it.

Musically, the production was under the musical direction of Gerald Sternbach (FB), who also led the 10 piece band on piano. Working with him were Jack Lipson/FB (Asst. Music Director / Piano); Darrel Gardner (FB) (Trumpet); Ron Barrows (Trumpet); Ken Kugler (Trombone); Phil Feather (FB) (Woodwinds); Greg Huckins (FB) (Woodwinds); John Krovoza (FB) (Cell0); Adrian Rosen/FB (Bass); and Albie Berk/FB (Drums / Contractor).  These musicians produced a wonderful sound that did not overpower the singers. Orchestrations were by Doug Walter and Steven Scott Smalley.

Lastly, let’s look at the remaining production and creatives. I noted earlier that not only did Kay Cole direct, but she choreographed as well. Cole’s dancing seemed very much in the period, with loads of tap and lots and lots of style. It was very fun to watch. Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) was the dance captain. Hector Guerrero was the Assistant Choreographer.

John Iacovelli (FB)’s scenic design was somewhat traditional: lots of pieces that flew down or were stagehanded in. They did a great job in establishing the requisite sense of place; I particularly liked the drop for LA Union Station, which was very accurate. The sets were supported by Brandon Baruch (FB)’s lighting design, which served to focus the view, establish the sense of time, while ensuring what should be seen should be seen. Also supporting the sense of time and place were Debra McGuire‘s costumes, Marissa Bergman (FB)’s properties, and Judi Lewin (FB)’s hair, wig, and makeup design. My wife and I had a few quibbles with McGuire’s costumes: there were there aforementioned stretch pants/leotards that the male ensemble members wore, and which left little to the imagination; the odd blue top that the character of Ruby wore in the second acts that seemed more in the 80s; Carmen Miranda’s costume, which likely wouldn’t have shown her belly button in that era; and some blue costumes that got lost against a blue background. Other than that, the costumes were good. The props were effective, although I noticed at times they were a bit flat (such as the musician’s instruments). Hair, wigs, and makeup all seemed reasonable. The sound was by the ever reliable Cricket S. Myers (FB) — one really doesn’t need to say anything — her presence ensures a good sounding show. Rounding out the production credits in positions significant to the actors, but not obvious to the audience members: Michael Donovan C.S.A. (FB) [Casting]; Davidson & Choy Publicity (FB) and Chasen & Company [Publicity]; Allied Integrated Marketing & 87AM (FB) [Marketing]; Matthew Herrmann (FB) [General Manager]; Brad Enlow [Technical Supervisor]; Art Brickman (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tara Sitser (FB) [Stage Manager]’ Phil Gold [Assistant Stage Manager]; A Chandler Warren Esq [Legal]; and Corky Hale [Producer].

I Only Have Eyes for You” continues at The Montalban Theatre (FB) through June 12. Tickets are available online. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. 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.

--- *** ---

The Course of a Relationship 👫 “Last Five Years” @ A.C.T. San Francisco

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 15, 2016 @ 5:34 pm PDT

Last Five Year (ACT San Francisco)userpic=playbillComplexity in Simplicity. That’s a good way to describe the musical we saw last night: The Last Five Years (L5Y) by Jason Robert Brown (FB). Now L5Y would not be at the top of the list of musicals we would see this week if we could (42nd Street Moon’s The Most Happy Fella would have that spot). After all, we’ve seen it twice before: in 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in 2007 at the 81 seat REP East Playhouse. However, our daughter specifically asked to see it, and so off to the Geary Theatre we went. This did provide us with the opportunity to see the show in a large venue — Pasadena is mid-size, and REP was intimate.

The Last Five Years is a simple show in terms of story: there are two actors, and they rarely appear together. The show tells the story of the relationship between Jamie and Kathy. Kathy’s version of the relationship story is told backwards: from the breakup to when they meet. Jamie version is forward: from when they meet to the breakup. They are only together at the middle (the marriage) and the last scene (but that time their songs are separate). The story alternates between the two stories, and from it the audience gets the story.

Given this structure, the storytelling depends on two things: the performance and the music. Jason Robert Brown (FB)’s music has the JRB romantic musical sound (i.e., you’ll find that The Bridges of Madison County has a similar sound): deep, lush, emotive, and at times playful. There are some very beautiful songs in L5Y; there are some very funny songs; and there are some very poignant songs.

More than almost any other show I know, this show is a showcase for the actors and the directors. Good actors can make the show. Wooden actors can put you to sleep. I’m pleased to say that the performances at A.C.T. were wonderful — they were full of personality and character. When these actors were happy, you know it; when they were sad, it was clear. You could get a real sense of their personalities from their performances. For example, just look at Zak Resnick (FB)’s performance in “Shiksa Goddess”. It was playful, happy, bouncy, and full of character. Similarly, the emotion he brought out for “The Schmuel Song” was spectacular. He was paired with Margo Seibert (FB)’s Kathy. Again, this was a performance filled with personality, as demonstrated in both “A Summer in Ohio” and “I Can Do Better Than That”. Both were just a lot of fun to watch. Kudos to the director, Michael Berresse (FB), for keeping the production simple and for bringing out the personalities of the characters.

Jeffrey Brian Adams and Kelsey Venter were the understudies.

The six piece orchestra was under the music direction of Matt Castle (FB), who also played the piano. Accompanying him were Deborah Price on violin; Jessica Ivry (FB) on cello; Kelley Maulbetsch (FB) on cello; Schuyler McFadden (FB) on guitar; Dewayne Pate (FB) on bass. Kevin Porter (FB) was the music contractor.

Tim Mackabee (FB)’s scenic design of the production was simple. Some large scrims created walls that could move, and there were various establishing furniture pieces and props that would move on stage to indicate the particular scenic location.  This was complemented by the excellent lighting design of Robert Wierzel (FB), who used the lighting not only to establish mood but to punctuate songs and emotions. Kai Harada (FB)’s sound design was clear and crisp up in the mezzanine, which is something that can be difficult in a large theatre. Remaining production credits: Associate Lighting Designer – Paul Hackenmueller (FB); Costume Design – Callie Floor (FB); Casting – Janet Foster C.S.A. (FB); Stage Manager – Megan Q. Sada (FB); Assistance Stage Manager – Christina Larson. A.C.T. San Francisco is under the artistic direction of Carey Perloff (FB).

The Last Five Years continues at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) of San Francisco (FB) until June 5, 2016. Tickets are available through A.C.T. online. Discount tickets might be available through Goldstar or Theatre Bay Area.

A.C.T. San Francisco has announced their 2017 season, and one show caught my eye: Here Lies Love, running in June 2017. This is a musical by David Byrne, with music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, about Imelda Marcos. I’ve heard the music, and it is quite fun. I recommend it to those in the Bay Area.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 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: Next weekend brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  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.

 

--- *** ---

A Tale of Two Cities 🎩 “The Boy from Oz” @ Landmark Musicals

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 14, 2016 @ 11:53 am PDT

The Boy from Oz (Landmark Musicals)userpic=theatre_tickets It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Oh, wrong tale of two cities.

Let me tell you the story of two cities, both staging the West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz, a musical based on the life of Peter Allen, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen*, and book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright.
*: Additional music and lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Michael Callen, Christopher Cross, David Foster, Tom Keane, Marsha Malamet, Dean Pitchford, and Carole Bayer Sager.

In one city, there is an established theatre company going back to 1982, with a large donor pool and a reasonable budget for an intimate theatre. There are significant production resources collected over that time in terms of lights, stagecraft, sound, facilities. There is a large talent pool, and due to the nature of the company and local agreements, multiple AEA actors were allowed (on top of SAG/AFTRA actors). There is a small theatre (under 99 seats) to fill. There is time to plan the show, with the production being announced in August 2015. There is significant publicity, with numerous reviewers and almost daily posts in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as publicity through popular blogs and theatre websites.

In the other city, there is a new company for which this is their second production. There is miniscule budget. There is a historic theatre with no production resources for which this is the first stage musical to be presented. There is a small talent pool with a short time to assemble it, as the rights for the show were approved in January 2016. There are limitations on the use of AEA actors (one AEA guest spot is permitted). There is a large old theatre to fill (399 seats). There is no social media presence, perhaps two reviews, and a small amount of publicity.

Both, however, open the same night, and both have the right to claim West Coast Regional premiere. However, one distinctly operates in the shadow of the other.

Perhaps the quote applies after all: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Guess which production we saw? That’s right: as we believe a weekend is never complete without some form of live performance, we didn’t let a trip to the San Francisco Bay area deter us from theatre, and so last night we were in San Francisco’s Chinatown for the last weekend of Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s production of The Boy from Oz. As for the other city? Landmark’s production inspired us so much we want to do a “compare and contrast”, and have booked tickets to see the much better known Celebration Theatre (FB) production of The Boy from Oz while we are in Hollywood for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

If you are unfamiliar with The Boy from Oz, that’s not a surprise. The musical opened in Australia in 1998, and moved to Broadway in 2004, where it won a Tony for an actor you might have heard of: Hugh Jackman (FB). However, the show never went on tour, and the regional producing rights in America were not released until this year. So the show has faded from popular memory, much like the subject of the show, Peter Allen.  The show itself is a jukebox musical, using the songs of Peter Allen to tell the life-story of Peter Allen. This is a story that starts in the outback of Australia in Tenterfield, New South Wales. It includes Allen’s stint as part of the  It includes both Judy Garland, the mentor who discovered Allen in Hong Kong and for whom Allen was a protégé, and Liza Minnelli (FB), Garland’s daughter whom Allen married shortly after her success in Flora the Red Menace. It is a story of the birth of gay awareness, as Allen realizes he is homosexual during the marriage, and the birth of the gay movement including the Stonewall Riots that occurred shortly after Garland’s death. It is the story of Allen going out as a solo act, and hitting his peak popularity in the 1980s. And it is the story of AIDS, with the death of Allen’s lover, Greg Connell, from AIDS, followed by the death of Allen himself. It is a celebration of the life of Peter Allen.

The show features many of Allen’s better known songs, including “When I Get My Name In Lights”, “The Best That You Can Do”, “Continental American”, “She Loves to Hear the Music”, “Bi-Coastal”, “Everything Old is New Again”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Still Call Australia Home”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, and “I Go to Rio”. You’ll know the songs, even if you don’t know Allen.

Boy From Oz (Publicity Photos)As I implied at the start of the writeup, the Landmark production had limited production funds. I’ll go into that in more detail when I cover the production aspects — lighting, costumes, sets, etc. But the production was still a great success and a lot of fun primarily due to the talent that director Jon Rosen (FB) assembled. It appears that much of the energy and drive for this production came from Rosen, who is by day a software designer (go Jon 😃), and by night an active theatre force in the SF Bay Area: producing, directing, doing lighting design, and acting. Rosen also serves as Artistic Director for Landmark Musical Theatre, who are developing their first full season of musicals at the Great Star Theatre.

Leading the production was the team’s one AEA guest artist: Dan Seda (FB) as Peter Allen (nee Peter Woolnough). Seda had a wonderful singing voice, and gave a warm and accessible performance. He was quite enjoyable and engaging to watch. His performance took quite a bit of energy, as he was on stage and involved in the action for almost every scene. He was particularly touching in his interactions with both Liza and Greg. I cannot judge how authentic his Australian accent was, but it was somewhere between Hugh Jackman and the guy that does the Outback commercial (but I think closer to Jackson).

There were three primary women in Allen’s life: Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and his mother, Marion Woolnough. Judy Garland was portrayed by Connie Champagne (FB), a well-known Garland impersonator who was one of the first performers cast. The program noted the New York times described her Garland portrayal as “a subtle masterpiece of parody and homage”. I would tend to agree with that: she eerily captured Garland’s persona and voice, with an oddly frozen look that worked well for Garland in the latter days of her life. What I found odd was that she didn’t lift that personal during the curtain call, when you would customarily see a smile. Evidently, she deeply immerses herself in her character. She did a great job in “All I Wanted Was The Dream”, as well as in “Only an Older Woman” and “Quiet Please,There’s a Lady On Stage.” As Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB) captured the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. She needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days, but overall it was a great portray. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style, especially in “She Loves the Music.” Lastly, as Allen’s mother Marion Woolnough (pronounced “Wilna”), Amy Meyers (FB) did a spectacular job with a very touching portrayal… plus knockout singing on “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.

In the latter part of Allen’s life, the principle characters were Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)), and Allen’s agent Dee Anthony (Keith T. Nielsen (FB), who also played Garland’s husband, Mark Herron). Hardin was wonderful, with a strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him. He also had a truly spectacular singing voice, which he demonstrated in “I Honestly Love You”. Men’s looks don’t normally catch my eye, but he had a look that made you see why Allen fell for him. Nielsen was also a surprise, who had a bit more of the Jerry Ohrbach vibe. He also had a strong singing voice.

One other non-ensemble member is worthy of special note: Dylan Palmer (who plays Young Peter Allen, alternating with Daniel Kaukonen). Palmer, for his age, was a remarkable singer and dancer, and interacted well with Seda’s Allen. He was just a delight to watch.

Rounding out the smaller roles and the ensemble positions were: Davin Coffey/FB [Ensemble]; Lisa Darter (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain]; Brian FitzMaurice (FB) [Dick Woolnough]; Janine Hartmann (FB) [Ensemble]; AeJay Mitchell (FB) [Trick, Ensemble]; Jery Rosas [Chris Bell]; Garrick Sather (FB) [Ensemble]; Joella Wolnik (FB) [Ensemble]; and Bessie Zolno (FB) [Ensemble].  Of these performers, a few comments. Wolnik had a spectacular singing voice — there were occasions when you could distinguish it from the rest of the ensemble and it was just a delight. Harmann was quite fun to watch on the stage with both her movement and dancing, although I’m not quite sure about the blue sparkly lipstick in the last number. Lastly, it is important for all the ensemble to remember to have fun out there. In the final number I could see the obvious fun that they were having, but there some of the numbers where they were seemingly concentrating more on getting the smiles right and the moves right. Remember to have fun out there.

The production was choreographed by Kimberly Krol (FB). The dancing was good, but some of the ensemble numbers could have used a touch more precision to give them a bit more oomphf. However, overall, the look and (to use a DCI term) general-effect were well-served by the choreography. Music was provided by an on-stage 5 piece orchestra under the music direction of Tammy Hall (FB). Hall was not there at our show; on the keyboards and leading the orchestra was Grace Renaud/FB. Rounding out the orchestra were Keith Leung/FB (Reeds); Aaron Priskorn (FB) (Trumpet); Ben Brown/FB (Bass), and Daria Johnson (FB) (Drums/Percussion).

Moving to the production side of things: remember how I said the production had high talent. This high talent compensated for a low production budget and facility limitations. The set design, from what were were told by the director (who designed it), was under $1000. There was a large (artificial) piano, a multi-tier musical base, and a chaise/banquette (moved up from the audience), together with some projections that were the sole mechanism of establishing place.  This is understandable given the budget, but the show would really benefit from stronger sets and better projections. Richard Gutierrez/FB‘s costume design (assisted by Myriah Gross (FB) (Costumer) and Rhonda Coles (Wardrobe Supervisor)) was similarly low-budget, but creatively appropriate within that budget. No credit is provided for hair and makeup — which generally worked well, although the wigs at times could use  a little better seating. The lighting design of Colin Johnson was similarly hampered: the Great Star Theatre only had lights on the side of the stage, no proper spot booth, no uplights and minimal proscenium lights. It reminded me of the early days of Nobel Middle School. Still, they did the best with what they had. The theatre space (Great Star Theatre) similarly hampered the sound design of Lisa Lash. The performers were all adequately amplified, but the hard-surface nature of the space (walls are undampered cinderblock, and there are limited speakers) resulted in a muffled sound. Rounding out the production credits are:  Richard Gutierrez/FB [Production Manager]; Liz Matos (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jon Rosen (FB) [Projection Design]; Lou Fischer [Photography]; Shaina Elster [House Manager]; and Danny Williams [Marketing].

This is the last weekend to catch The Boy From Oz at Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). Tickets are available through Goldstar as well as Brown Paper Tix.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we ate next door at Bund Shanghai Restaurant (Yelp), 640 Jackson Street. In one word: Yum! They were very accommodating of our dietary gotchas.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 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: Tonight we will be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  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.

--- *** ---