Observations Along the Road

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

Better Warn the Pantages….

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 21, 2016 @ 5:22 pm PDT

Cabrillo Userpicuserpic=colonyuserpic=repeastI’m three for three.

All three of the theaters at which I subscribed at the end of 2015 have gone dark or belly up.

  • REP just went silent; there have been no newsletters or messages to subscribers since December. A 2016 season was never announced. An old message on the grapevine said they might be back in August. We’ll see.
  • The Colony Theatre announced they were cancelling the last two shows of their seasons, and there was no prognosis for the future. One could “donate” the remainder of the tickets for a tax write-off, or wait to see if something emerges. No offers of refunds. At least the Colony had the decency to tell subscribers before the media.
  • Cabrillo Music Theatre announced today that they were closing up shop at the Civic Arts Plaza at the end of this season. The next season was cancelled, and the future is unknown. The TO Civic Arts Plaza will be refunding subscriptions and donations. They informed the media and Facebook before they sent the mail to subscribers.

First, someone better warn the Pantages — we just subscribed there. It also makes me think twice about subscribing at the Pasadena Playhouse: it looks like companies that have come out of financial problems remain shaky and unsteady. and Pasadena is only a few years out.

So here’s my question: We traditionally have had three subscriptions: one intimate, one mid-size, and one large. Arguably, the large is now the Pantages. So where should we consider for the intimate and the mid-size? I’ve got my ideas, but I’d like to hear your suggestions.

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season 2016-2017: Cabrillo Music Theatre 🎭 Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jan 26, 2016 @ 12:01 pm PDT

userpic=theatre_musicalsYesterday, I received in the mail my season renewal for Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); today’s news brought an update on the upcoming season at the Pantages (FB). So I thought I would share with you (over lunch) my thoughts on these announcements, together with my thoughts on an announcement we haven’t received from one of our regular theatres.

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Cabrillo Music Theatre

Cabrillo UserpicCabrillo Music Theatre (FB) has sent season subscribers their renewal information for the 2016-2017 season — these is even before the 2nd show of the 2015-2016 season (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, opening Friday 1/29) is on the boards. If you recall, we skipped the 2014-2015 season because we had seen all of the shows; we rejoined back in 2015 because the shows sounded interesting again. Here is the set of shows for 2016-2017, with my thoughts on them. Note that the show in the Kavli has moved from being optional to part of the season.

 

  • Thumbs Up Evita. (October 14-23, 2016) We last saw Evita in a community theatre production while we were in Maui. While it was pretty good, it wasn’t at the professional level. The Evita before that was at Van Nuys HS. I saw the original tour when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City ages and ages ago. I actually enjoy the show if it is done right, so it will be interesting to see Cabrillo’s take on it.
  • Thumbs Up Disney’s Tarzan. (January 27 – February 12, 2017, Kavli Theatre) This was on Broadway briefly, but it otherwise hasn’t been in the LA area. I’m not even sure I’ve heard the music or seen a cast album of the stage version of it. It should be interesting to see how this works for Cabrillo.
  • Thumbs Up Sister Act. (April 21-30, 2017) We last saw Sister Act when it was at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) in its pre-Broadway run in 2006. We liked it then; it will be interesting to see how it has changed. So, why didn’t we see it when the tour came to the Pantages? Simple: It’s good, but it wasn’t worth Pantages prices that close to the Playhouse run. Time — and lower prices — bring it back into the “going” camp.
  • Thumbs Up Peter Pan. (July 14-23, 2017) According to the Cabrillo mailer, the theatrical rights have been tied up for a long time. I certainly haven’t seen it on stage in ages (if ever); Cathy Rigby used to do it regularly  at La Mirada, but it’s got to be at least a decade or two since it has been there. I’ve seen dramatic variations; I’ve seen prequels; and of course I’ve seen live stage productions on TV.  It will be interesting to see it on the Cabrillo stage, and I’m curious whether they are going to take the changes made for the TV production — additional songs, reworking of the Native American involvement — and move them back into the stage book.

So am I going to renew? I think so. The shows look interesting. The price is right (about $150 for Saturday evening Mezzanine, per person, for four shows)… plus they now allow you to split it over two payments!

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Pantages Theatre

userpic=broadwaylaWhat truly prompted this lunchtime post, however, was the announcement that, as part of the Pantages (FB) 2016-2017 season, Hamilton was coming to Los Angeles. When the Hamilton tour was first announced, I wondered where it would sit down. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB), although having great seats, won’t host a show for that long of a period. As for the Pantages (FB), I didn’t think they would want to tie up the theatre for the long engagement Hamilton would need. I truly expected it would inaugurate one of the old movie palaces on Broadway. I was wrong.  It is doing a five month engagement at the Pantages. Here are my thoughts on Hamilton, plus the rest of the announced schedule:

  • Thumbs Up Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (November 1-27, 2016). I’ve heard the music to Hedwig, and I’ve grown to really like it. I wonder who they will get for the lead, and whether it will be a tour lead, or they will do a special lead for the Los Angeles engagement.
  • thumbs-side The King and I. (December 13, 2016 – January 21, 2017). I’ve heard the music to the recent revival of The King and I, and I like it more than other revivals. However, this is still my least favorite R&H show. I tend to find it slow and overdone. I’ll need to think about this one.
  • Thumbs Up Finding Neverland. (February 21 – March 12, 2017). Ah, Peter, my friend. Back so soon. I’ve heard the music to this and like it quite a bit. It will be really interesting to see it in the same season that Cabrillo is doing their Peter Pan.
  • Thumbs Up An American in Paris. (March 22 – April 9, 2017). Again, I’ve heard the music, and the wonderful Gershwin melodies. The story, at least as was in the movies, is weak. But I recall reading that the adaption made some interesting choices in the setting to make this work again. Plus, of course, there is the fabulous dancing.
  • Thumbs Down The Bodyguard. (May 2-21, 2017). An adaptation of a Whitney Houston movie, starring Deborah Cox. It hasn’t been on Broadway to my knowledge; this is a tour from London’s West End. Book is by Alexander Dinelaris based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasden. There are no credits for music or lyrics, so this is a jukeboxer. I was more interested in Ghost than I would be in this.
  • Thumbs Down The Book of Mormon (May 30 – July 9, 2017). Not interested. I saw this at the Pantages during the first National tour.
  • Thumbs Up Hamilton. (August 11 – December 30, 2017). Yes, oh yes. I’ve grown to really like the music and the story of this.

All in all, a reasonable season. I’ve been buying individual tickets when they first go on sale at the Pantages, at the cheapest price. I’m buying them online now, so I do get the service fee. Given that, I think I’ll see if I can get a 4-show mini-subscription this year, as it may mean better and more consistent seats for the price. I would love it if the Pantages did a “split into 2 payments” option, but I doubt they will. Too bad. They would probably get more subscribers. [ETA: The good news is that according to their website, they have 2, 4, and 10 no-interest payment plans. The bad news is that currently they only have a 7 show subscription. Flex packages go on sale around July.]

Other Tour Musings: Aladdin: The Musical just announced their national tour, starting in Chicago April-July 2017. Those dates mean it can’t go into the Pantages until at least 2018, and this is show that I’d expect to go into the Pantages. So it may show up at the Ahmanson in the Fall of 2017 (they haven’t announced their season yet), or (more likely) it will be in the Winter or Spring of 2018 at the Pantages. It also sounds like there is a tour of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  It is part of the 2016-2017 SHN San Francisco season, so my guess is that it will be a fall show at the Ahmanson, because (a) it is unlikely they would delay it until 2018, and (b) they rarely, if ever, book plays into the Pantages. Fun Home and Something Rotten have also announced tours; Fun Home starts in late 2016; Rotten in 2017. Given the Pantages schedule, I’m expecting both to show up at the Ahmanson. School of Rock: The Musical has also announced a tour; although that’s a show that would fit the Pantages audience better, the long sitdown at the Pantages means it will likely be an Ahmanson show. Gee. I’ve just figured out the Ahmanson season :-).

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Repertory East Playhouse

userpic=repeastNow we come to the non-announcement. As you might recall, in all my writeups of late, I’ve been indicating that I’ve been waiting for REP East (FB) 2016 season. It normally would be well underway by now. But we have heard nothing from the theatre; their website has not been updated since December. I’ve heard ominous rumblings, but that could just be a bit of grisly beef I had for lunch. However, I did drop a note to REP, and did get a little something back. Basically, what I know is that they are closed for unspecified restructuring and renovations, and that a new season will begin in August. There will be a more formal announcement once the jello has jellified.

So the good news is: they are coming back. The bad news is: it won’t be until August. This is too short to switch a subscription to somewhere else, but I sense I’ll be getting a lot of The Group Rep (FB) tickets on Goldstar.

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userpic=las-vegasP.S.: This time it is true. Abe Vigoda has passed away. And in the universe, a thousand memes cried in sympathy.

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Who Dunnit?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 15, 2015 @ 11:10 am PDT

Deathtrap (Repertory East)userpic=repeastBack when I was in college, there was some homegrown text adventure game (neither “Zork” nor “Advent”) that I used to play. I always wanted to have that game have an elevator that could could find. The doors would open, and it would say, “There is a sign saying “You are on Level 3″, a keyboard mounted into the wall, and a door.”. You could then walk up to that keyboard, enter your door password, and go into the graduate terminal room. You could then log in, and thus get a real system shell.

This was a very “meta” concept: You could go into the game, walk into a terminal room, and log into a fresh instance of the game. It was self-descriptive, self-referential. In fact, in its adjectival form, “meta” is defined as something that refers to to itself or to the conventions of its genre — that is, something self-referential.  A good example would be someone writing a book about writing the book that is being written about writing a book.

Or, for another example, what about a murder mystery called “Deathtrap”, that starts out with a famous but writer-blocked playwright receiving a play from a student, called “Deathtrap”, a comedic whodunnit in 2 acts, 6 scenes, with only 5 characters, set in a Connecticut city. A play so good that the playwright wonders if he could entice the student to come to work with him, and then kill him and publish the play as his own. That, in fact, is the starting premise of the very clever whodunnit “Deathtrap”, by Ira Levin (of “Rosemary’s Baby” fame), that we saw last night at Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB).

“Deathtrap” is about… well, I don’t want to spoil the surprises in the story, so suffice it to say that “Deathtrap” is about the writing of the comedic thriller “Deathtrap”. It is a one set, two act, five actor, six scene play. It has the distinction of being the longest running comedy-thriller on Broadway. Although I can’t tell you the plot (if you really want to know, there is always “Wikipedia”), I can tell you the players: Sidney Bruhl, a successful Broadway playwright whose specialty is thrillers, currently suffering from writers blog; Myra Bruhl, his beautiful and wealthy wife; Clifford Anderson, a student of Bruhl’s who has mailed him a carbon-copy of a one-set, two-act, five-character thriller called “Deathtrap”; Helga Ten Dorp, a Swedish author with ESP who helps the police solve crimes and who is on vacation in the area; and Porter Milgrim, the Bruhl family lawyer.

Director Mark Kaplan (FB) (assisted by Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB)) has executed the production well (one might say he did a “killer job”) with the production. I was mostly unfamiliar with the show — I think I’ve seen the movie version years ago, and all I had remembered is that an affable Chistopher Reeve was in the cast. Kaplan did a great job of not telegraphic what was to come through the behavior of the actors themselves, and kept the pacing and movement realistic and crisp. Although, as is said in the opening scene about this play, even “A gifted director couldn’t even hurt it.”

In the lead position was Derrel Maury (FB) as Sidney Bruhl. Maury created a believable playwright, seemingly friendly and creative. He gave off the aura of someone who had been writing for years. His student / mentee, Clifford Anderson, was played by Curtis Crawford/FB. Crawford, again, brought a youthful believability to the character. Reading the bios of both of these men, I believe it is because each is similar to their characters. Not speaking to whether they are capable of murder, but with respect to theatrical experience. Maury, like Bruhl, has been working in the theatre for a long time, joining SAG/AFTRA in 1967 and working onstage since the age of 12. Crawford is really a newcomer, currently studying acting at USC with only a few roles — including REP’s recent The Diviners — on his resume.

Supporting these characters were Kimberly Patterson (FB) as Myra Bruhl, Sidney’s wife; Georgan George (FB) as Helga Ten Dorp, the neighboring author with ESP; and Barry Agin (FB) as Porter Milgrim, Sidney’s lawyer. The lovely Patterson was great as Myra — realistic in her actions, and just a delight to watch. George provided some great comic relief with her movements. It is hard to call anyone portraying ESP as realistic, but George did a great job of making the character fun to watch and enjoyable offstage. Agin had a much smaller role, but worked well in the scenes that he was in.

In fact, my only comments on the show were truly at the level of nits — all easily corrected. For example, only I would notice that when Sydney called Clifford the first time, he dialed 8 digits. In those days, he would have either dialed 7 digits (555-1212) or 11 digits (1-203-555-1212); I also notice that Sydney forgot to zip his fly for the first act (which, admittedly, is something hard to correct in character while onstage once you realize it). Another in our party noted that Clifford was doing carriage return on the typewriter wrong, and that an accent was slightly off for the area. As I said: nits. None of these are significant problems that hindered enjoyment, and only an obsessive compulsive like me would pick up on them.

Turning to the production and technical side: The scenic and prop design was by artistic director of REP, Mikee Schwinn (FB). Mikee indicated that he was working on the set up until the night before opening. I’m pleased to say that the set doesn’t look like it; in fact, the set looks like the excellent sets REP had in the days of Jeff Hyde — and it is a wonderful demonstration of how Mikee is steering REP in the right direction after a rocky year. Sound design was by the always effective Steven “Nanook” Burkholder (FB). Lighting design was by Jeffrey Hampton, who I see is now listed as the REP’s Resident Lighting Designer. Congratulations, Jeff, for restoring the balance of “Jeff” in the Resident Production Artists of the REP.  Costume design was by Cory Logston (FB), and was believable. Laurie Morgan/FB was the production stage manager, assisted by Reed-Ashley Matheson/FB. REP is under the artistic direction of Mikee Schwinn (FB).

Deathtrap” continues at Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) through December 12. It is an excellent production and well worth seeing. REP has moved to Vendini for ticketing, and the new ticketing website allows you to select your own seats. Tickets may also be available on Goldstar.

Normally, this would be the time and space where I would announce the REP 2016 season. Alas, it hasn’t been announced — or even leaked — to me yet. I spent sometime last night talking to Mikee about where REP is moving in 2016, and I’m excited about the plans we discussed. I don’t want to spoil the details about Mikee’s announcements, but suffice it to say there are plans in the work for greater use of the Playhouse, a return to REP as the flagship professional theatre for actors in the northern San Fernando Valley/Santa Clarita area, and an extremely busy production schedule that will broaden the opportunities for audiences and theatre lovers. I should also note, in the spirit of “full disclosure”, that Mikee has asked me to be on the advisory board of REP. In that capacity, I plan to advise in the same manner I do at work: with a focus on unbiased advice that results in mission success.

An Afternoon Note. Before we went to the REP, we were at Archway Studio Theatre (FB) for a student performance of Dracula.  I’m not doing a full review of the show here for a number of reasons (including the fact that there was no program listing all the names) — and, another “full disclosure” — my niece and nephew were in the cast. I’ll note that the kids did a very good job, especially given extremely limited rehearsal time and the fact that they had never worked with the props before. In the short time before the show, I got to see how the director, Steven Sabel (FB) worked on staging and blocking the students. After the show was a very interesting workshop, where the student actors got to play their roles against the adult actors doing the same show. It was an interesting contrast, and I’m sure it informed the students by seeing how the trained actors came at their roles. As for the student performances: in general, they were good. My only advice might be to remember to project a bit more (some had it down, some didn’t), and remember to slow down when speaking (a common problem I’ve seen at Science Festivals with students that are nervous). But I think the notion of getting kids up on stage is a great one — it provides self confidence, it improves speaking abilities, and it allows exploration of emotions and feelings in a safe environment. Archway’s adult production of Dracula (tickets also available on Goldstar) looks interesting. It has one more weekend of performances.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend I’m on my own. I picked up a postcard for “Timeshare”  at Eclectic Theatre Company (FB) while at the Colony for Best of Enemies, and it sounded so interesting I booked a ticket for November 21. The last weekend of November sees us back at Zombie Joes Underground (FB) for the intriguingly-titled “The Jew That Saved Christmas“. December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4), followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference is open. The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December is held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the REP schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is currently nothing on the schedule for February. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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A Slice of Life in Newhall

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Sep 20, 2015 @ 12:21 pm PDT

The Diviners (Rep East)userpic=repeastThis was a double play weekend. Our first play was a comedy, Four Clowns Present Hamlet, on Friday night. Our second play was a drama: The Diviners by Jim Leonard Jr. at REP East (FB), which we saw last night. Sometimes, with double-play weekend, I’m able to figure out a connection between the two shows we see. This weekend? It’s hard to see any connection between a classic drama about revenge (performed by clowns), and a slice of life in 1930s Indiana about a mentally-damaged boy and his relationship with water.

Going in, with a title like The Diviners, what would you expect? I was expecting something like 110 in the Shade or The Rainmaker — that is, something about a community during a drought, and a need for water. A subject that would be very timely, given the current situation in California. Even the short description seems to give the drought emphasis: “The boy was deeply traumatized by a near-drowning in his past and as a result is deathly afraid of water, but ironically is also gifted with the ability to divine the location of water — sorely needed in his drought-besieged community.” But the actual act of “divining” only occurs in one scene, although there is a lot of mention of water. Further, there is only one character with the ability to divine water. So why is the title plural? Let’s see if we can figure that out in a minute.

So if The Diviners isn’t about the process of divination in a drought-ravaged community, what is it about? The folks we came with (who don’t particularly like this play) would say… nothing. It is a slice of life play, nothing more. I would tend to disagree with them. Yes, it is a slice of life in 1930s Zion Indiana; an exploration of a community that is desperately in need. For the farmers, that need is water — although it is less water in the form of wells, and more water in the form of the rain that nourishes their crops. For the townsfolk, that need is a different type of drought — they are in a spiritual drought after the church burned down many years ago. The desperately want that revival spirit back, and are searching for anything to do it.

At the center of the story is the Layman family: father Ferris and children Buddy and Jennie Mae. After an unfortunate near-drowning incident, Buddy was left mentally damaged but with a unique ability: he could sense water. This gave him the power of divination in the traditional sense (i.e., dowsing for water), but it also gave him the ability to sense when much needed storms were coming. It also left him with a tremendous fear of water — particularly cold water. It also left him with a strong desire for his mother, as he was unable to understand that she gave her life saving his. Into this family comes C.C. Showers, a man from Kentucky who has given up being a preacher because he no longer felt the calling. C.C. quickly bonds with this family and starts working for Ferris in his automotive repair shop. He also bonds with Buddy, becoming his friend, and with Jennie Mae. Jennie Mae wants the bond to be romantic; C.C. strives hard to keep it from becoming that because of their difference in ages: he is 30, she is 17.

Surrounding these people are the other residents of Zion, IN. Basil and Luella Bennett are farmers, with two farmhands Melvin Wilder and Dewey Maples. Basil’s concern is his farm: he’s searching for rain for the crops, and the best way to work the land (he does not care for modern equipment). Dewey’s concern is the daughter of the Dry Goods proprietor, Darlene Henshaw. Complicating this is Darlene’s mother, Norma Henshaw: a bible-thumpin’ woman who wants to see the town come back to a stronger faith. Also strongly faithful is Goldie Short, who runs the local diner: she insists on prayer before every meal. Together, Norma, Goldie, and Luella are a bunch of church ladies in search of a church and a pastor.

The play itself is a slice of life: it opens with Basil and Dewey talking about finding Buddy’s body in the river, and going to tell his father. The play then takes place as an extended flashback starting at the arrival of C.C., and continuing until the first scene is essentially repeated. During the play, we see the growth and change in Buddy, and the start of a relationship between C.C. and Jennie Mae. This is what you want to see in a good play.

Unfortunately, what you also want to see is a resolution, and it is in this sense that the story itself falls a little flat. You want to see C.C. help Buddy overcome his fear of water, and finally understand what happens to his mother. This is cut short by Buddy’s death. You want to see the relationship between C.C. and Jennie Mae succeed (even with the age difference) because they seem to fit well together. However, you are left dangling because there is no formal resolution; in fact, it looks like the circumstances of Buddy’s death would push them apart instead of together. As a result, you walk out a little unsatisfied — not from the performances (which were excellent — more on that below), but from the denouement. The resolution doesn’t uplift you as you might hope. You are left searching for something that might not be there.

This brings us back to the title. Why is The Diviners plural? After all, at the surface, The Diviners is about only one diviner: Buddy Layman. But in the broader sense of “divination” being a search for something that may or may not be there, the town is a town of diviners: the church ladies are searching for a church; the farmers are searching for rain; Jennie Mae is searching for love; Buddy is searching for his mom — and a stop to his itching; and C.C…. well, C.C. is searching for a purpose — a meaning for his life without preaching but still with a gift to reach people. The audience is also searching: searching for an uplifting resolution that they ultimately don’t get.

There, my friends, is the connection between the two plays this weekend. Hamlet, ultimately, is a tragedy: everyone touched is destroyed except for Horatio. The Diviners, too, is a tragedy: everyone touched by Buddy is destroyed, in some sense, by his death. Certainly, the hopes that had begun to blossom — for love, for spirituality, for healing — are killed as dead as King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. In Hamlet, the endless push for revenge is seen as destructive in the end. In The Diviners, it is the excessive search for something that really isn’t there that is destructive. That something, by the way, isn’t water.

The performances in The Diviners were top notch. As always, some percentage of the credit should go to the director, Jeff Johnson (FB), who drew out extremely realistic performances from his acting ensemble and (presumably) conceived the design of the overall production for the REP space. Whatever he did, it worked: this was REP back at the top of its performance game. Whatever the faults of this story, you should see it for the quality of the performances on the stage — it demonstrates how REP is the best professional theater in the northern part of LA County.

Diviners Production PhotosIn the lead performance positions were Liam Johnson/FB as Buddy Layman and Ryan Shrewsbury (FB) as C.C. Showers. Johnson gave a great performance as Buddy, capturing the mental impairment in an effective but not overdone way. You could see his fear of water, his expression of talent, and his mental quirks quite well. Shrewsbury was an effective C.C.: thin, friendly, and able to project an ability to reach people, he was believable as an preacher who had lost the calling — in fact, who wanted to distance himself from it completely. You had the sense that there was some reason why — some way that God had failed him — but it never came out or was said. Great performances.

Rounding out the Layman family were Tyler Joy (FB) as Jennie Mae Layman and Harry Bennett/FB as Ferris Layman. I fell in love with Joy’s portrayal of Jennie Mae — she radiated a distinct sweetness and caring and naivete that was wonderful to watch. Bennett’s Ferris was an interesting father figure — intensely disliking Herbert Hoover, and seemingly unsure how to handle his children — in fact, his way to handle his children was not to handle them — to let them grow as weeds do, finding their own path. Bennett performed that well.

Rounding out the community of Zion IN were the rest of the townfolk: Gin Treadwell-Eng (FB) [Norma Henshaw]; Sanya Arnold/FB [Darlene Henshaw]; Jeni Fitzgerald/FB [Goldie Short]; Randy Aronson (FB) [Basil Bennett]; Laura Lanoil/FB [Luella Bennett];  Barry Agin (FB) [Melvin Wilder], and Curtis Crawford/FB [Dewey Maples].  Crawford and Arnold were convincing as two teens trying to find their way in the world of relationships. Treadwell-Eng, Fitzgerald, and Lanoil were quite convincing as the ladies in the town who simply wanted to see religion back as the central thing in their lives. Aronson’s Basil was a great simple farmer — the side story about his relationship with his bicycle was great.

Turning to the technical side: The scenic design was by Jeffrey Hyde. It was great to see Jeff back doing the design after a long hiatus — it was evident in the quality and the attention to detail in the set (although he does need to replace the CFL in the porch light). In particular, the raised nature of the set to permit digging and to provide for the front lighting was great. Speaking of lighting, the lighting design by Jeffrey Hampton, under the supervision of resident lighting designer Tim Christianson/FB, was very effective. Sound design was by the always effective Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB. The costumes by Janet McAnany (FB) and Kristi Johnson/FB were effective and seemed reasonably period. Remaining technical credits: Assistant Director  – Michael Keane/FB; Production Stage Manager – Kim Iosue/FB. REP is under the artistic direction of  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

The Diviners continues at Repertory East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall until October 16. Tickets are available through the REP website or on Goldstar. Even with the weak resolution to the story, it is well worth seeing for the slice of life it creates and the extraordinary performances.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend sees us going down to La Mirada to see “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October was being held for the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB), but they haven’t put up the Fringe shows yet, so I’ve started booking weekends. The first weekend of October brings “The Baker’s Wife” at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood. The second weekend of October brings “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of October takes us to Thousand Oaks for “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of October brings “Uncle Vanya” at Antaeus Theatre Company (FB) in North Hollywood. Halloween weekend sees me at CSUN for Urinetown, and then both of us out in Simi Valley for “The Addams Family” at the Simi Cultural Arts Center (Simi Actors Rep Theatre (FB)). The following weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The bookings for November conclude with Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14; the rest of the month is currently open. December brings “Humble Boy” at The Colony Theatre (FB) the first weekend, followed by a mid-week stint as a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). December also has dates held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). There are also a few other interesting productions I’m keeping my eyes open for. The first is the Fall show at The Blank Theatre (FB), “Something Truly Monstrous”, sounds wonderful — however, it runs through November 8, so squeezing it in would mean a double weekend. The show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) also sounds like an interesting exploration of clutter —  but “The Object Lesson” only runs through October 4, and I’m not sure we can squeeze it in. 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.

 

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Finding the Way Home

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Aug 25, 2015 @ 11:58 am PDT

A Company of Wayward Saints (REP East)userpic=repeastCommedia dell’arte is a particular artform with which I only have passing acquaintance; “passing” in this case meaning I’ve seen a high-school production of Scapino and heard the music of The Glorious Ones. However, I’ve never really understood the traditions or characters until a few nights ago when I saw the REP East Playhouse (FB) production of “A Company of Wayward Saints” by George Herman. So why did we go see it? First and foremost, because a friend (J. T. Centonze (FB)) was producing and directing the show; second, because we like the quality of REP shows; third, because my wife wanted to see it and we had that weekend open due to an upcoming trip. What did we think? Let’s put it this way: I’m very glad we went.

Commedia dell’arte is a 16th century Italian artform based on improvised performances utilizing particular character types. Originally, it was called commedia all’improviso. Performers played on outside, temporary stages, and relied on various props in place of extensive scenery. The better troupes were patronized by nobility. Characters typically wear masks, and fit a variety of stock characters, such as: The Harlequin (a clown); Scapino (the youth / acrobat / jack-of-all-trades); Pantalone ( the old man / money ); Il Dottore (the doctor / erudite); Il Capitano ( the captain / military man); the Innamorati, Tristano and Isabella (the lovers); Columbina (Harlequin’s mistress / the nag / impudent servant ); or Ruffiana ( tart / former prostitute). Other stock characters commonly found are listed / linked in the Wikipedia article.

I mentioned the particular character types above because A Company of Wayward Saints is the story of a commedia dell’arte troupe, La Compagnia dei Santi Ostinati (The Company of Wayward Saints) consisting of the above players. This troupe  is out on tour (no specific location, but it seems oddly to be somewhere in the midwest) and have started fighting with each other and becoming unprofessional. So unprofessional, in fact, that when the 8:30 PM curtain comes around, only Scapino and Columbina are there attempting to improvise and delay until the rest arrive. Harlequin, and shortly the rest of the troupe soon show up, and Harlequin informs the company that he has found a patron that is willing to pay their way home… on one condition. This patron, an unnamed Duke, has requested that they improvise on the theme of…. “The Story of Man”. If they do this, and they entertain him, he will fund their way back home. This is the set-up, and includes an introduction by Harlequin (the manager of the troupe) of the various characters in the troupe.

The remainder of the first act consists of the troupe’s first attempt to tell the history of man. They do this by attempting to do a variety of silly scenes illustrating human history: The Fall of Adam; Odysseus’ return to Penelope; the assassination of Julius Caesar. All fail miserably as the troupe keeps veering away from the point of each story, moving instead to illustrate failures such as arrogance, battles between the sexes, and much more. The actors upstage each other, end up infighting, and revert to being selfish children.  The act ends with the troupe members all walking out, leaving Harlequin to beg the audience to take a few minutes for themselves while he regroups the troupe, demoralized because they have “lost the art”.

The second act begins with Harlequin explaining that he couldn’t get the troupe back, but then they slowly all come back — having realized that their friendships and relationships were too strong. One character then gets the bright idea that the history of man need not be a literal history, but rather the history of the life of a man: birth, adolescent, marriage, death. The troupe then starts to stage these scenes — but this time they are working together. The scenes reflect the reality and pain of life: the birth scene is told from the point of view of the husband unable to help his wife, but learning how a child can bring back love; the adolescence scene relates the story of two Mississippi youth forming a relationship out of their tomboyish playfulness; marriage, where a negotiation between a female marriage broker and a daughter-marrying father ends unexpectedly with their liaison), and death (a story in which a priest on death row convinces his prosecuting soldier to take over for him). Out of these scenes comes the humor borne of reality and pain (as opposed to the heavy slapstick). This pleases the Duke and he agrees to fund their way home… but the troupe, having refound their art, decides to keep performing. At the end, Harlequin turns to the audience and requests them to single out no one player for your praise: showing that the selfishness of the first act has been abandoned.

As I indicated at the start, I was unfamiliar with this story and the characters that were portrayed. I was unsure as the act started, but ended the play touched and enjoying it quite a bit. The notion of a troupe rediscovering their art after a period of discord was a lovely and touching one. I can see why this play has had the longevity it has had (while researching this writeup, I even found a reference to when The Colony Theatre did the show, with John Larroquette as Harlequin). I found the story well worth seeing.

Although I could attempt to follow Harlequin’s dictum and not single out a particular player, I’d fail miserably. So let’s look at all the players equally instead. As Harlequin, Kevin Becker (FB) (who we saw just last week as Pontius Pilate) was wonderful and playful, capturing the clown well. He demonstrated his strong performance skills over both roles. Scapino was performed by Beth Ann Sweezer (FB), another REP regular, capturing the playfulness of the youth quite well … extremely fun to watch, both in the opening scenes, as the snake, and as the youth in the adolescence scene. Pantelone was Ryan Shrewsbury (FB), seen in REP’s Avenue Q, who captured the old man well (and was wonderful in the marriage negotiations). Dottore was  Stefanie Harbeson (FB), who was extremely touching in her discussions in the birth scene. Capitano was played with full bluster by Jay Potter/FB, appropriately stuffed in the Odysseus scene, but nicely down-to-earth in the death scene. The lovers were Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB) [Tristano] and Kelly Boardman (FB) [Isabella], and seemed a well matched couple, both comically in the Adam and Eve scene, and touchingly in the birth scene. I’ll note that we just saw Thomas as Jesus in the REP’s Jesus Christ Superstar, and he looked totally different here. Columbine, the nag, was portrayed by Kim Iosue/FB with appropriate energy and shrewishness, and worked quite well in the marriage scene with Pantelone. Lastly, Ruffiana (the tart) was played by Marie-Clarie Erdynast/FB. I’ll note that I’ve known MC for years at REP, and I didn’t even recognize her in this role. A wonderful performance, especially in the adolescence scene.

As befits commedia dell’arte, the scenic design was minimal (and uncredited): the back of some flats left over from previous shows (with appropriate graffiti), some chairs, and such. It worked. The lighting design was by Jeffrey Hampton, and had a few points where actors were in the dark as they moved into the appropriate spot space (hopefully this will be fixed in the second week). Hampton also served as Stage Manager. Fight choreography was by Jesus, ooops, Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB) and was suitably realistic. Music was by Ryan Shrewsbury (FB). The sound design was by the everpresent Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB. The production was produced and directed by J. T. Centonze (FB). Alas, we’ll be seeing J.T. a lot less at the REP: he just got the keys, and will soon be opening, Off Kilter Kilts (FB) in Pasadena.

A Company of Wayward Saints has one more weekend at REP East Playhouse (FB). You can get tickets online at the REP Online Box Office; note that this homegrown system will soon be replaced by a spiffy new Vendini system. Discount tickets are available on Goldstar.  You can also find special discounts by liking REP East on Facebook.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This coming weekend sees a vacation show:  Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB), starring Hawai’i’s top-selling female vocalist of all time, Amy Hānaialiʻi Gilliom. September starts with Tom Paxton’s last concert at McCabes (FB) on September 12, followed by “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

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Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are — Revisited

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 16, 2015 @ 7:32 am PDT

Jesus Christ Superstar (Rep East)userpic=repeastBack in early July, I attended the second performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at REP East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall. I wasn’t that impressed; the show wasn’t up to REP standards. My wife driving my daughter’s car back to her in Berkeley this weekend afforded me the opportunity to go to the closing performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. I’m pleased to say the show is 200% better. Yes, I put that in bold (well, “strong”) for a reason. This is a remarkable turnaround, and I’m delighted that the show went out with REP’s reputation for quality professional theatre intact.

So what happened? The weekend after we originally saw the show, the performances were cancelled so the show could retool. REP was reworking the show to bring in live music. Additionally, the actor playing Judas (who we had found problematic) left the show. This, combined with getting the sound mix right, made wonders for the performance — instead of leaving lukewarm, I left enthused over the performance.

As for the book…. well, the book still has its problems, but at least I could understand it a bit better now. I did find that seeing it a second time brought out some nuances I didn’t catch before. In particular, I felt a distinct parallel between the desire of Jesus’ followers to fight the establishment they didn’t like with the battles going on against the Vietnam War when this show was written. That may explain why it was so popular in early 1970s.

Chris Loprete (FB), who I had previously admired as Pontius Pilate, moved up to the Judas role and was spectacular. He sang clearly, and with the right emotion and power, and made the role work.  I also enjoyed his little nuances and reactions. This was head and shoulders above the previous performer — I was extremely impressed. It was how the role should have been played.

Moving into the role of Pilate was Kevin Becker (FB). Becker did very well with the role, with good singing and strong performance. Pilate only has a few scenes, so it is hard to say much more. His main performances come in the second act, and he was strong there.

There were also a number of other problematic areas corrected. In particular, the microphones on the actors were corrected, and you could hear everyone clearly. This was an amazing difference. I also thought that Michael Davies was much stronger in his scene as King Herod — there seem to be some nuances changed in that performance that suddenly brought forth the right tone. The remainder of the cast seems to have grown into their roles — of course, being able to hear them clearly makes a big difference. In particular, I noticed the trio (Eriel Brown (FB), Laura Norkin/FB, and I’m guessing Tara Cox/FB) and their singing and dancing much more, and it seemed to work better. I was also able to appreciate Alex Bowman (FB)’s Peter a lot more.

About the only remaining problem was that some of Jesus’ songs were at the upper end (or above the upper end) of the Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB)’s range, and the stretch didn’t always make it. This wasn’t a major problem, however; overall, I believe that Jesus’ had gotten stronger in performance as well.

A significant change was the addition of a live band, consisting of Rick Pratt (FB), Justin G. Horwitz/FB, and Connor Pratt/FB. Live music made a significant difference, both in musical quality and musical timing. Live music for a show is a thing of beauty, and I believe and hope this is a REP tradition for the future. The band sounded wonderful.

Some things still struck me as odd: The set painting still didn’t make sense (even after having it explained — it was supposed to evoke 1970s Ocean Pacific design, but I don’t see the connections), and there were still some odd lighting flashes and points where performers were in darkness. But with all the other fixes, these nits moved to the background. Overall, I enjoyed the show much much more.

This was the last performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at REP East Playhouse (FB). For the next two weeks, J. T. Centonze (FB) moves from behind the bar to direct A Company of Wayward Saints by George Herman. J.T. is a busy man, as he is also opening Off Kilter Kilts (FB) in Pasadena. You can get tickets for A Company of Wayward Saints through the REP Online Box Office.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend, we’re back at REP East (FB) for “A Company of Wayward Saints“. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September starts with Tom Paxton’s last concert at McCabes (FB) on September 12, followed by “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

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Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 12, 2015 @ 11:31 am PDT

Jesus Christ Superstar (Rep East)userpic=repeastWhen I went to Jewish Summer Camp in the early 1970s, there were two “Jesus”-based musicals going around. One, Godspell, gave us a song we actually sang at camp: “Day by Day”. Out of context, it worked just fine. The other was this brown album with a stylized angel on it, and it gave us a song we sang as “Jesus Christ / Superstar / Who In The Hell Do You Think You Are”. The words aren’t too surprising for a Jewish summer camp. I mention this because that was really my knowledge of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar up to last night. I had seen Godspell a number of times and tended to like it because it wasn’t so “in your face” for a non-Christian. From what little I had heard or seen, JCS was much more in your face, heavy rock, and screamy. In recent years I had finally heard the music — and there were a few songs I liked — but still hadn’t seen the show either on stage or on screen. So when REP East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall, where we subscribe, announced the show for this season, I was looking forward to finally seeing it. Last night I finally saw it. I came away disappointed, unsure of what all the fuss was about. REP gave it a good effort, but it just didn’t strike that chord for me. As always, your mileage may vary.

Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS for short) was the first musical from the team of Andrew Lloyd Webber (FB) and Tim Rice (FB) to hit America (Joseph was written earlier, but was imported to the US after JCS became a success). It was released first as a rock concept album — that aforementioned brown album — and became a hit. This led to the album being staged on Broadway by the same director that had done Hair. On Broadway — just as with Wicked — the critics almost universally panned the show, but the audiences loved it. JCS can be said to have started the era of sung-through musical — we can blame JCS for not only Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera, and Cats, but for spawning shows like Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Tale of Two Cities, and the recent fringe show, The Count of Monte Cristo.

JCS essentially relates the well-known story of the last eight days of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Spoiler: He dies in the end (it does not show the resurrection). I’m not sure I need to relate the particulars of the story; if you need to see the plot synopsis, it is on the Wikipedia page.  The story really focuses on the relationship between Jesus, Judas, and Mary. Judas, who plays the central driving figure in the story, is disappointed that Jesus seems to have veered away from the focus of his ministry. Under what he sees as the influence of Mary, Judas believes that Jesus is spending funds on oils and ointments instead of using it to help the poor and needy. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with Jesus, moving to the point (as we all know) of betraying him to the authorities, which leads to his crucifixion. As Jesus gets pilloried by the authorities, we also see how many of his disciples appear to turn away from him as well, just as today popular media can turn people away from heroes of old. Only Mary stays steadfastly by Jesus’ side. At the end, they return remembering how he affected their lives.

The love triangle presented in story, as JCS presents it, is likely what drew youth into the story. The triangle: close friend disillusioned when the new woman in his bro’s life turns him away is classic — and it is an interesting take on Jesus’ life. I don’t know the extent to which this subtext, however, is actually in the gospels.

Unlike Godspell, which teaches Jesus’ lessons and focuses less on the actual life story, JCS really doesn’t teach what Jesus said about living. Through Judas, it seems to show how he turned away from what he was teaching. It shows Jesus as bargaining with God, trying to figure out his role in all of this. Ultimately, he is convinced he has to die in order to make his message. To me, a non-Christian, the portrayal of Jesus by Rice and Webber is a negative one. Here is a nice guy, trying to minister to the poor, but his followers inflate his ministry for their own purposes and for their own immortality (listen to the words in “The Last Supper”: “Always hoped that I’d be an apostle / Knew that I would make it if I tried / Then when we retire we can write the gospels / So they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”). Rice and Webber portray Jesus as ultimately betraying his cause and his work to make that larger message, of being a reluctant messiah — in essence, of being a fraud. Look at the main lyric of the title song: “Jesus Christ, Superstar / Do you think you’re what they say you are”. Rice and Webber portray Judas as seeing through this, and trying to return Jesus to the right path. That’s certainly not the story of Jesus that I (a non-Christian) have gleaned over the years.  I think it is ultimately a negative portrayal of Jesus, with lyrics that are screaming and not always melodic.

Even worse, I think that JCS perpetuates the antisemitic nature of the Gospels. Look at “King Herod’s Song”, and particularly the “Trial Before Pilate”. What comes across is that the Jews are viewed in a negative sense, and that the Romans are really reluctant to kill Jesus — but (as the song says) it is the Jews that demand that the Romans find a reason to do so.

Suffice it to say that I’m not enthused about the presentation of the story, and I now understand why I preferred Godspell. There are some versions of Godspell that can get a bit preachy, but they do not get anti-anything. JCS does. It has a few songs that I like, particularly “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, but the show just turns me off. My guess is that this would be the case irrespective of the venue producing the show (although I am now curious about the highly-touted DOMA version).

Let’s now turn to the REP interpretation of the show, understanding how that may have been colored based on the book itself. Alas, this too was disappointing due to a number of factors, but I’ll ultimately chock it up to directoral vision combined with technical issues. As directed by Rick Pratt (FB), the show had a minimalist set staging (there were no real set pieces at all), with loads of odd lighting and paint choices that served to distract from rather than support the story. The pre-recorded music tended to overpower the voices, which were not helped by microphones that kept cutting in and out and having a fair amount of hiss. This was not the usual REP set, sound, or lighting quality — every theater has an aberration occasionally. Due to all this, the focus ultimately was on the cast and their relationships and emotions; given the sung through nature of the show, that had to come across in the quality and clarity of the songs and how they were sung. The cast tried hard to overcome these problems, but it never quite meshed with the demands the overwrought Webber/Rice story required.

As a quick aside, I also believe this is a story that works much better with live music. Live, as opposed to pre-recorded music, gives that extra energy that a rock opera such as this requires. The director, Rick Pratt, had experience with live on-stage music before at the REP and that worked very very well, and I wish he had been able to figure out a way to make the music live.

[Edited to Add: Based on some discussions with the REP, it looks like this will be transitioning to live music by 7/24. This should improve the production and energy greatly.]

In JCS, the central character driving the story is Judas. It is he that frames the initial opening direction of the story in “Heaven on Their Minds”; it is he that is there criticizing Jesus’s relationship with Mary; it is he that interacts with the High Priests; and it is he that ultimately faces Jesus in the end. His role is quite similar to the one that Rice/Webber would use again for Che in Evita. You need a powerhouse rock singer here — one that can not only act, but sing loud and clear to get the message across. You also need an actor who can just have that unspeakable presence. Adam Duarte tries very hard, and occasionally got the tone right, but didn’t have the consistency needed. Further, his attempt to be rock-ish made it difficult to hear the words clearly — and hearing the words is vital when the songs are the only thing moving the story forward.

The second part of the main triangle in the story is Jesus, who was played by Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB). Benjamin sang well when we saw him in Return to the Forbidden Planet (also directed by Pratt). For the most part, he did well here but had a lot of trouble with the upper end of the range on some of Jesus’ songs. He also had seemingly the wrong look, but I can’t put my finger on why — as a mid-thirties white bearded hippie, he certainly didn’t fit the conventional picture of Jesus; then again, we don’t know what Jesus looked like.

The third part of the triangle — and one of the standouts in the show — was Natasha J. Gaston (FB) as Mary Magdalene. Gaston’s Mary conveyed wonderful emotions, and had a wonderful singing voice that she put to great use in “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Everything’s Alright”. The quality of this voice came through even as her microphone kept cutting in and out and over a large amount of amplification hiss. I hope that we see more of this lovely actress.

As the opposition leadership, Chris Loprete (FB) [Pontius Pilate], Paul Nieman (FB) [Caiphas], and Ally Loprete (FB) [Annas] did well. All three sang well and were able to convey their emotions through song. The costuming seemed a bit strange, especially the overly clingy and sexy number for Annas, who was supposedly a high priest, and the devilish dark red suit for Caiphas. [ETA: When I read this paragraph after seeing the show a second time, I realized that I was confusing Pilate with Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], who placed the third part of the Sanhedrin. Loprete’s Pilate was goot, but wasn’t part of the main opposition leadership.]

In the ensemble and playing a number of smaller roles were: Alex Bowman (FB) [Peter / Ensemble], Tara Cox/FB [Simon Zealotes / Ensemble], Michael Davies [King Herod / Ensemble], Eriel Brown (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain], Laura Norkin/FB [Ensemble], Marie-Clarie Erdynast/FB [Ensemble], Danielle Honeyman (FB) [Ensemble], Sean Goodman/FB [Ensemble], Bruce Robinson/FB [Ensemble], and Micahel Gilbertson/FB [Ensemble]. In the ensemble positions, all blended well, sang reasonably well, and had obvious fun portraying their characters. There are a few worthy of special comment. Tara Cox/FB was another of those actors with a voice above the rest; it came across quite strongly in the few solo numbers and portions of numbers that she had. We’ve seen Michael Davies before in Forbidden Planet. He was good in King Herod’s number (one of my favorites on the album), but didn’t quite have the right sense of the cat playing with the mouse that was required, and that feeds the righteous indignation that feeds the end of the number. The focus was the cutesy, not the message. Eriel Brown (FB) moved and danced well, and seemed (if I was picking her out right) to have a very nice singing voice. Lastly, Danielle Honeyman (FB) was fun to watch in the ensemble. Again, if I was hearing correctly, I heard a slightly operatic voice and tone.

As noted before, JCS was directed by Rick Pratt (FB) and Kimbyrly M. Valis (FB). Carla Bellefeuille (FB) was the vocal director, assisted by Justin G. Horwitz/FB. Erin Cholakian (FB) was the choreographer.  I’ve commented before about the directoral vision. JCS is a hard show to get correct in a small venue, so I do applaud the directoral team for trying.  Their choices didn’t work for me; it might work for others. I feel their attempt was hurt by the inability to have live music. It was also hurt by the current battle between intimate theatres and AEA that has led REP to go non-union; JCS in particular is a show that would have been helped greatly to have the additional seasoning, talent, and stage presence in the lead positions. I think the team did the best with what they had to work with. The choreography, on the other hand, worked well given the limited REP space; it is always nice to see dance on the REP stage.

[ETA: There was also an odd projection sequence during the overture music going through all sorts of historical scenes. The purpose was unclear — was it meant to say that this was done in Jesus’ name? What was the point? Further, given the uneven surface at the back of the theatre, the projections were hard to see and read.]

I’ve also noted before the various technical problems. The set design was minimal: some ramps, some raised stages, a cross that could be lowered, and some inexplicable painted lines on the floor and on the wall. This is not the style of set design that REP normally does, and it didn’t work for me (but then again, I’ve never seen JCS before — perhaps this is the concept). There were also significant problems with the sound — I don’t know if it was the design of Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB or problems with the wireless mics on the performers and difficulties at the sound board. In any case, it served to distract more than amplify. Although TC was listed as the resident lighting designer, lighting credit for this show was given to Jeffrey Hampton. The lighting was odd — there were odd flashes during songs that I’m guessing were meant to be rock opera-ish. There were also points where characters were singing or moving in the dark, which shouldn’t be the case. I don’t know what to say about the costume design by Chelsea Jones/FB: they attempted to update this to some unspecified era so that the costumes were some odd eclectic mix of robes, sexy shorts, spandex, hippie threads, jeans and T-shirts, and suits. My wife noted that there were numerous fitting problems. Calliope Weisman/FB was the stage manager.  REP is under the artistic direction of  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

Jesus Christ Superstar continues at REP East (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) through August 15, 2015. Tickets are available through the REP online box office. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I’m not a fan of JCS, but you might be.

After JCS concludes its run, REP will be presenting a special two-weekend “81 series” production of A Company of Wayward Saints by George Herman, a commedia del arte type show. Tickets are available through the REP website.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: July is a month of double-headers. Next weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). 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.

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Evolution of a Relationship

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 17, 2015 @ 1:15 pm PDT

Dinner with Friends (Rep East)userpic=repeastThis August marks my 30th wedding anniversary. As with any relationship, my relationship with my wife has seen its ups and downs, and it has changed and adapted as the years have gone by. Relationships — especially long-term relationships — are like that. Communication is key — both verbal and non-verbal — as well as understanding and humor. With the right skills, relationships can last. Without them… you end up with a story like the one we saw last night at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita): “Dinner with Friends” by Donald Margulies.

Dinner with Friends” tells the story of two couple — Gabe (Jack Impellizzeri (FB)) and Karen (Nancy Lantis (FB)), and Tom (Dennis Hadley (FB)) and Beth (Leslie Connelly (FB)). They have a deeply interwoven relationship: Gabe and Tom have been friends since they first met in college; Karen and Beth have been friends since they worked together at a publishing company. Further, Gabe and Karen brought Tom and Beth together 12 years ago. The two couples, like many couples do, formed an extended family (together with their two children, each). As the play opens, Gabe and Karen are having Beth over for dinner (Tom being unavailable due to a business trip); they are their usual epicurian selves, going over every detail of the food and their recent trip to Italy. Beth breaks down, informing them that she and Tom are splitting up, and describing what lead up to the breakup. After returning home from the evening, Beth is suprised by Tom (whose business trip was cancelled). Tom discovers that Beth told Gabe and Karen about the split, and is pissed that he didn’t get to present his side of the story. So he heads over to Gabe and Karen’s to tell the events as he sees them. As the play goes on, we learn the backstory of the split — as well as the fact that neither side is presenting the events without their particular spin on the story. We also see the effect of the split on Gabe and Karen, who seemingly have a solid marriage built around humor and communication. Gabe and Karen are placed in that unenviable position that happens when a close couple splits: Who do you believe? Who do you side with? Who will remain as friends, and can it be both? What does it say about us as a couple that we didn’t see this coming? It also makes Gabe and Karen subtly question their relationship: perhaps their relationship isn’t quite what they think it is.

It is at this point that Gabe uses the phrase, “The evolution of a relationship”. He believes that relationships change as practical matters take precedence over abandon. This is the real difference between the two couples: Tom and Beth wanted abandon; Gabe and Karen have learned to replace that with the practical. In fact, as the play end, Gabe tries to force the abandon, and it just feels wrong.

To me, studying the evolution of relationships what this play is about. Reading other reviews of the play, I think that’s why this play resonates with so many. In natural language — a language we can all understand —  audience members see their own relationships. Perhaps they are like Tom and Beth — not seeing the signals of things going off the rails, not realizing the reasons they came together may not have been conducive to the long term. Perhaps they are closer to Gabe and Karen, addressing things with humor (and similarly not seeing potential warning signs that might be nothing… or might just be indicative of a much longer fuse cord). The presentation wasn’t earth shattering; it wasn’t grand entertainment. But it also wasn’t contrived — it came across as a slice of real life that reflected natural relationships.

Is this play a comedy or a drama? It has elements of both; I think it tries to find the comedy in complex dramatic situations. The couple we were with seemed to view it more as a drama; in fact, they wanted more drama and conflict. They also noted the fact that the characters weren’t particularly likeable — there was no one they could empathize with. I didn’t see those problems, but I bring them up because I do think different people will react to this differently.

The performances were uniformly excellent. Under the direction of Brad Sergi (FB) (assisted by Bill Quinn/FB), the chemistry between each couple was amplified in a playful way, and they came off as realistic characters (Sergi and Quinn are the team that did such a great job on last year’s Cat). I really can’t single out any performance — they were just a perfect ensemble.

Technically, the set was simple. Tables, chairs, sofa, bed, not particularly tied to a particular place by design. It worked, proving you don’t always need a fancy design to establish place — often the skill of the actors can create the place through performance. More significant, technically, were the excellent sound effects — including the children and the car chirps. Lighting, like the set, was also simple but served to focus your attention on those portions of the stage that required focus. The technical team consisted of: Mikee Schwinn/FB (Set Design / Stage Hand), Jeffrey Hampton/FB (Stage Manager / Lighting Design), Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB (Sound Design), J. T. Centonze (FB) and Vicky Lightner/FB (Additional Stage Managers). Costumes and food props were provided by the cast. Dinner with Friends was produced by Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

I’ll note that the program for this show was skimpier than usual. Upon inquiry, I learned that was because the sponsorship for this show materialized late. This is a demonstration of the fact that ticket sales alone are insufficient to support intimate theatre. Grants help some, but are also insufficient. Shows often depend on corporate and institutional sponsors to underwrite their costs of production; without such underwriters, production is precarious. If you are aware of a business in Santa Clarita or the San Fernando Valley — especially the northern Valley — that wants to support local cultural institutions and promote their business to attendees, contact REP East Playhouse at 661.288.0000.

Dinner With Friends continues at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) until June 6. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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

Upcoming Shows: This evening brings “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (ticketing is now open). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! 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.

 

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