Observations Along the Road

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

Looking Back at 2016 Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jan 02, 2017 @ 8:17 am PDT

I am not the type that likes to give out artificial awards in theatre. I know people that do, and I know theatres that find such awards useful in their advertising. I like to believe I’ve got the humility to be above that — I’m just one person with no theatrical criticism training, expressing my personal opinion. Why should what I say matters? Still, I do find it useful to look back at what stuck with me or was most significant. With the highway and news chum updates, I didn’t get a chance to do this at 2016 ended, so let’s do it now…

In 2016 I wrote 76 reviews, although not all were theatre or concerts. The live performances we saw were:

  1. Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. Geffen Theatre, 1/2/2016.
  2. Bullets over Broadway – The Musical. Pantages. 1/9/2016.
  3. That Lovin’ Feeling. Group Rep. 1/16/2016.
  4. 50 Hour Drive By. Zombie Joe’s Underground. 1/23/2016.
  5. Stomp. Valley Performing Arts Center. 1/24/2016.
  6. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Cabrillo Music Theatre. 1/30/2016.
  7. Empire – The Musical. La Mirada Performing Arts Center. 2/6/2016.
  8. An Act of God. Ahmanson Theatre. 2/7/2016.
  9. Jason Moran – Fats Waller Dance Party. Valley Performing Arts Center. 2/9/2016.
  10. Dogfight. Chance Theatre. 2/14/2016.
  11. Prez. Chromolume Theatre. 2/20/2016.
  12. String/ Awakening. Muse/ique. 2/21/2016.
  13. The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards, Valley Performing Arts Center, 3/1/2016.
  14. Man Covets Bird, 24th Street Theatre, 3/6/2016.
  15. All Shook Up, Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 3/12/2016.
  16. Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse, 3/19/2016.
  17. Bach at Leipzig, Lonny Chapman Group Rep, 3/20/2016.
  18. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Ahmanson Theatre, 3/26/2016.
  19. A Shred of Evidence, Theatre 40, 3/27/2016.
  20. Lea Salonga, Valley Performing Arts Center, 4/1/2016.
  21. An Evening with Elaine Boosler, Temple Ahavat Shalom, 4/2/2016.
  22. Turtle Island Quartet, Valley Performing Arts Center, 4/6/2016.
  23. Children of Eden, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 4/9/2016.
  24. Stella’s Last J-Date, Whitefire Theatre, 4/14/2016.
  25. Anton in Show Business, Hudson Theatre, 4/24/2016
  26. Lunatics and Actors. Four Clowns. 4/30/2016.
  27. Endgame, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 5/7/2016.
  28. Carney Magic, The Colony Theatre (Guest Production), 5/8/2016.
  29. The Boy from Oz, Landmark Musicals (San Francisco), 5/13/2016.
  30. The Last 5 Years, ACT San Francisco, 5/14/2016.
  31. Los Angeles: Now and Then, Los Angeles City College, 5/23/2016.
  32. I Only Have Eyes for You, Ricardo Montalban Theatre, 5/29/2016.
  33. Alien vs. Musical, HFF16 (Lillian/Sacred Fools), 6/4/2016.
  34. Code 197: Driving While Blewish, HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/4/2016
  35. Toxic Avenger: The Musical, HFF16 (Good People Theatre, Lillian/Sacred Fools), 6/4/2016.
  36. Tell Me on a Sunday, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/5/2016
  37. All The Best Killers are Librarians, HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/5/2016
  38. Einstein: The Man, The Myth, The Mustache, HFF16 (McCadden Theatre), 6/11/2016
  39. The Boy from Oz, Celebration Theatre, 6/11/2016.
  40. Titus Andronicus Jr., HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/12/2016
  41. 30JJ or Bust: The World is my Underwire. HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/18/2016
  42. Lamprey: Weekend of Vengence, HFF16 (Second Stage/Sacred Fools), 6/18/2016
  43. Mark Twain Answers All Your Questions, HFF16 (Studio C/Complex), 6/18/2016
  44. The Old Woman, HFF16 (Lounge Theatre), 6/18/2016
  45. Sweet Love Adieu, HFF16 (McCadden Theatre), 6/19/2016
  46. All Aboard the Marriage Hearse, HFF16 (Lounge Theatre), 6/19/2016
  47. Squeeze My Cans, HFF16, 6/25/2016
  48. Taming of the Show, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/26/2016
  49. My Big Fat Blonde Musical, HFF16 (Black Box/Sacred Fools), 6/26/2016
  50. Hamlet (Las Vegas Style), HFF16 (The Actors Company), 6/26/2016
  51. Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Pantages, 7/3/2016
  52. Grey Gardens, Ahmanson Theatre, 7/9/2016
  53. Thirteen’s Spring, HFF16 (Moving Art Collective, The Actors Company), 7/15/2016
  54. The Little Mermaid, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 7/16/2016
  55. Weird Al Takes the Bowl, Hollywood Bowl, 7/23/2016
  56. Get Trump’d: We’re Making Opera Great Again, Operaworks, 7/24/2016
  57. Copeland and Marsales, Hollywood Bowl, 7/28/2016
  58. American/Rhapsody, Muse/ique, 8/20/2016
  59. Gutenberg: The Musical, Backyard Renaissance, 8/28/2016
  60. Summer/Time, Muse/ique, 9/10/2016.
  61. I Love You Because, Red Brick Road/Grove Theatre Center, 9/17/2016
  62. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical, La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts, 9/24/2016
  63. Dear World, Valley Performing Arts Center, 9/30/2016
  64. Our Town, Actors Co-Op, 10/1/2016
  65. Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wyton Marsalles, 10/8/2016
  66. Kelli O’Hara, Valley Performing Arts Center, 10/14/2016
  67. Evita, Cabrillo Music Theatre, 10/15/2016
  68. The Turn of the Screw, Actors Co-Op, 10/22/2016
  69. Hello Again: The Songs of Allan Sherman, Temple Ahavat Shalom, 10/29/2016
  70. Vote or Die Laughing (Culture Clash), Valley Performing Arts Center, 11/1/2016
  71. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pantages, 11/5/2016
  72. Funny Girl, Conundrum Theatre at The Colony Theatre, 11/18/2016
  73. Little Women: The Musical, Chance Theatre, 11/25/2016
  74. Into the Woods, Nobel Middle School, 11/30/2016
  75. Wonderful Town, LA Opera @ Dorothy Chandler, 12/3/2016
  76. Amelie – A New Musical, Ahmanson, 12/10/2016
  77. The King and I, Pantages, 12/17/2016

That’s quite a few shows, so let’s get on to the recap.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesMost Significant Event. I think the most significant event wasn’t a show, but a battle. The battle with Actors Equity over the future of Intimate Theatre (99 seats and under) in Los Angeles was clearly a transformative event. The LA Actors lost the battle (as for the overall war, that’s still up in the air), and the new AEA rules have gone into effect. Companies that don’t fall under exemptions (pretty much all artistic-director non-membership efforts) now will either have to pay minimum wage, or go with non-AEA actors. Membership companies (such as Actors Co-op) are safe for now. We will need to see how this will change the theatrical landscape: will it be doom and gloom, or will we survive. Time will tell.

Greatest Loss. For us, that was the apparent death of two theatre companies where we subscribed: Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) and The Colony Theatre (FB). I don’t believe either will be back; certainly not in the forms they were, and likely without us as subscribers. We’ve moved on, and have new subscriptions at Actors Co-op (FB) and the Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

Most Talked About Show. For me, a good measure of a show is how much I refer to it afterwards — remembering its impact on me and how it changed my thinking. This year where were a few. The most moving performance was clearly The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical at La Mirada — the combination of signing and singing was transformative. The most magical performance was the recent Amelie – A New Musical at the Ahmanson — there, the stagecraft left me spellbound. But I think the most talked about performance was String/ Awakening from Muse/ique — this was a show that tied-together (pun not intended) everything “string”, from bridged-string instruments to knitting to real string theory.

Best Peformance. All of the shows we saw, which actors and performances stayed with me?

On the actress side, there were two: Kim Dalton (FB), who we saw twice — in Dogfight and Toxic Avenger: The Musical, was perhaps the best find of the year — spunky performance, strong voice, and just strongly memorable. Coming in close was Phillipa Soo as the title character in Amelie – A New Musical — she just charmed the pants off of you with her playfulness.

On the actor side, again we have two: Andrew Bongiorno (FB) in the Celebration production of The Boy from Oz — who basically drove this show with his masterful performance, and the pair of John McGinty (FB) [performance] and Dino Nicandros (FB) [singing] as the title character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame – The Musical. They were just mesmerizing.

Most Creative. These were the shows that took stagecraft to a new level; that left you astounded at what they could do on the stage and the magic that could be created without CGI. I’ve got three in this category that somewhat fit into small, medium, and large — with similar creativity. The small is 24th Street Theatre’s Man Covets Bird; the medium is La Mirada’s Empire – The Musical, and the large is the Ahmanson’s Amelie – A New Musical. All create the magic through the clever use of projections and the actor’s interactions therewith. They take this new artform to a new level. A close runner up is Four Clowns’ Lunatics and Actors, which used no projections but simple performance to create an extremely chilling portrayal.

Most Entertaining Revival of an Old Show. There were a number of old shows that got revivals this year, and some worked better than others. Most were memorable and enjoyable — Funny Girl, Wonderful Town, and Dear World come to mind quite readily. All haven’t been done in ages. I think the one that most made me want to see the original was Wonderful Town. Hearing the music, one could get the sense of why this is a great show and what it could achieve in the right hands. Dear World was good but you could see the creaky-ness in the plot (and one could say similar about The King and I). Funny Girl was good for what it was, but it really needs a full-scale big-budget revival to shine at the level it needs.

By the way, a similar contrast was in play for The Boy from Oz. We saw two “West Coast Premiere”s of this: Landmark Musicals and Celebrations. Both had strengths and weaknesses, and both showed the creativity of small low-budget theatres in realizing a rarely seen show. Celebration’s came out slightly ahead, but Landmark’s had a spunk and a “yes, we can” attitude that was nice to see. It really makes me curious to see what Chromolume Theatre (FB) will do with Pacific Overtures at an intimate theatre level.

Best Memories. There were a few shows that just brought back memories, but I think my favorite was Los Angeles: Now and Then, a lovely musical review about my city, Los Angeles. Some very good songs, and some even better memories. A runner up was Hello Again: The Songs of Allan Sherman, simply because that brought back the parody music of my childhood.

Best “Heard But Never Seen Before”: There were a number of shows which I had only heard, but never seen, until this year. Most were even better on stage. It is hard to pick a “best”; certainly, at a large scale, both Wonderful Town, and Dear World come to mind quite readily. But both of those were “staged concerts”, not full realizations. Perhaps the best full realization was Toxic Avenger: The Musical, although Dogfight is close. Also strong was I Love You Because, but the New York theme was a bit much. But the two The Boy from Ozs fit in there somewhere.

The Best. Was there one production that, if I could, I would go back and see again. Looking over the list of what I saw, I think I would go with Toxic Avenger: The Musical. Amelie was a close second, but I think Toxie had the biggest fun factor.

* * *

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 starts with a Southern California Games Day, followed by Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

 

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The President’s Wife

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 26, 2016 @ 4:01 pm PDT

Jackie (Movie)As is our holiday tradition, we went to go see a movie on Christmas. Our daughter was joining us, so we had to find something acceptable to all three of our. The first choice, Hidden Figures, was not yet in general release as was only at the overpriced Arclight theatres. We ended up seeing Jackie at the Laemmle Town Center in Encino.

Jackie tells the story of Jacqueline Kennedy right around the time of the assassination of her husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, framed by a reporter supposedly interviewing her about her last days in the White House.

I found the story…. ponderous. You didn’t learn that much about her, you didn’t learn that much about him, you didn’t learn that much about the Johnsons, you only briefly saw the kids reactions. In fact, the entire movie seemed to be watching Jackie’s reaction to all of this, wondering what her legacy would be, and planning the President’s funeral.

There needed to be more. There needed to be insight — real insight — into their relationship. We know the very early days of Jackie from Grey Gardens. We know her end as a recluse widow of Aristotle Onassis. But who and what was the real woman? That we don’t see. Portman’s Jackie is stiff and cold; one wonders what the President saw in her other than glamour.

This is not to say I didn’t like the movie — it was good. It just wasn’t one I’d go out of the way to see again.

It did raise a few interesting questions, such as the whole White House transition. Having to pack and move out in the middle of grief — just the whole transition process of packing your family in the White House environment — is fascinating. However, this was only touched upon, not explored in depth.

We did discuss afterwards who was the first Presidential wife to really re-embrace a political and active role. The first, of course, we Eleanor Roosevelt. But after that? Bess Truman? Mamie Eisenhower? Jackie Kennedy? Lady Bird Johnson? Pat Nixon? Betty Ford? Rosayln Carter? Nancy Reagan? Barbara Bush? Hillary Clinton? Laura Bush? Michelle Obama?

I think the only ones who really had that identity absent their husbands, post Eleanor, were Hillary and Michelle. The rest were more minor causes. Where will Melania fit in the pantheon of First Ladies? Will she embrace or shy away from the role? Hard to say.

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Is a Puzzlement | “The King and I” (National Tour) @ Pantages

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 18, 2016 @ 12:15 pm PDT

The King and I (Pantages)I guess the first question is: “Why?”.

After all, I’m on record as saying that The King and I is not my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein show. I’d also seen a production somewhat recently: in 2008 at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). So why see The King and I again.

Well, first and foremost, I wanted to see Hamilton, and to ensure that happened, I got a Pantages subscription. But I didn’t even consider passing on the tickets (as I did for The Book of Morman), so, again, why? The answer is that I had seen the snippets of this Lincoln Center Theatre (FB) revival, and I wanted to see if the changes were sufficient to make me like the musical again.

We saw the show last night, and I have both good news and bad news to report. The production and the performance made this an extremely enjoyable King and I. However, the book itself is becoming increasingly problematic as my consciousness has been raised about cultural sensitivity. Can performance outweigh dated books? Should revivals tamper with successful originals to address book problems that weren’t there when the authors did the original?  What should we do about musicals and plays with books that reflects attitudes counter to what is acceptable today?

As I wrote back in 2008, I’m sure we are all familiar with “The King and I”. It was the 5th Rogers and Hammerstein musical, coming out in 1951,  two years after the successful “South Pacific”. It was based on a 1994 book. After “The King and I”, R&H would have a string of unsuccessful or less successful musicals (“Me and Juliet, “Pipe Dream”, “Flower Drum Song”) until their final paydirt, “The Sound of Music”.

As for the show’s plot. Many should know it from the beloved movie version. The R&H Theatricals site describes it thusly: “It is 1862 in Siam when an English widow, Anna Leonowens, and her young son arrive at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, having been summoned by the King to serve as tutor to his many children and wives. The King is largely considered to be a barbarian by those in the West, and he seeks Anna’s assistance in changing his image, if not his ways. With both keeping a firm grip on their respective traditions and values, Anna and the King grow to understand and, eventually, respect one another, in a truly unique love story. Along with the dazzling score, the incomparable Jerome Robbins ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” is one of the all-time marvels of the musical stage.”

Lincoln Center did what they could. A big problem with The King and I has often been one of casting. For a musical about Siam (now Thailand), it has often been cast with predominately Caucasian actors. In particular, Yul Brynner, the model of the King for most people, was a Russian-born Swiss-American actor. But today’s hallmark is diversity and authenticity, and as this production’s King, Jose Llana (FB), noted in Episode 84 of the Theater People podcast, it is vital to cast Asian roles with Asian actors. This production, for the most part, did that. I think I noted one non-Asian ensemble member — otherwise, all the Asian leads and ensemble members were Asian.  However, as my wife noted, previous few of them were actually Thai.  I had made an similar comment back in 2015 when writing up the Pasadena Playhouse’s Waterfall, where I wrote: “This leads to the next casting complaint: Casting directors that seem to think that all Asians look alike. For those who know, there are distinct differences between the various Asian ethnicities, and the Asian casting here was a mix of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and probably some I couldn’t distinguish. I find this demonstrates a commentary on the acting pool: it indicates there are insufficient actors of a particular group to properly staff the show. This is something the theatre community needs to combat: we need to encourage more diversity in the acting pool (and diverse stories to employ them). ” We’re moving in the right direction, but we’ll be better when a show such as this can have its Siamese characters cast by predominately Thai actors. That will only happen when diversity is a hallmark in all shows; when there are sufficient roles to make acting a profession for a wide variety of ethnic actors. Reading the credits, we’re not there yet.

Another plus that Lincoln Center did was to increase the effort to make the dancing and movement more authentically Thai, as opposed to a more stereotypical portrayal. At least the movement seemed more Thai to this non-Thai audience member. It could probably have been stronger with a Thai choreographer, which Christopher Gattelli (FB) is clearly not (and which Jerome Robbins, born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, was clearly not). No knocks on Gattelli or Robbins for their work, which was beautiful Thai-like dancing for a very dance heavy show. But was the research and dramaturgy done to ensure it was an authentic form? That I can’t answer, only that it looked like that Thai-like dance I had seen in Waterfall.

But where this all fell down is the datedness of the Oscar Hammerstein II‘s book (based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon). Hammerstein’s writing reflected the 1950’s attitude towards Asians, with pidgin English and mispronunciations (just think of the character Bloody Mary in South Pacific or many of the characters in Flower Drum Song), and an implicit attitude that the Western way is superior. Although there is some commentary to that effect in the show (think of the song “Western People Funny”), the notion is still that the Western way is best. That wasn’t a problem in the 1950s and 1960s, but it is increasingly jarring today. Alas, there’s not much that can be done about it: The King and I is such a beloved show that the R&H Organization would never permit adjusting those attitudes; it will remain — just like the song Baby, It’s Cold Outside — a show whose dated notions ruffles the feathers of the sensitive today (although it may have sounded perfectly right in the context of its original time). This is an increasing problem for many musicals of the 1960s and early: attitudes and portrayals acceptable then are less acceptable now.

Setting that all aside, and looking at the show as the comfortable memory that it is, this production team did a reasonably good job — and the cast and director did an excellent job. The actors certainly brought a sparkle and vitality to the portrayals that made this production eminently watchable; there was a clear chemistry and playfulness there that was transmitted to the audience. Director Bartlett Sher (FB) is to be commended for the little things he either brought out or encouraged — this was just a fun production.

Nowhere was this seen better than in the leads: Laura Michelle Kelly (FB) and Jose Llana (FB). I’ve seen so many stiff Annas, but Kelly brought a sense of joy and delight to the role, and a look that captured the vulnerability beneath the facade as well. Llana’s King was similarly personified. Not just a stiff authoritarian figure, he was able to bring a humanity and personality to the role that was transmitted throughout the auditorium, a sense that can be seen in the bottommost image I found for the show graphic. Both sang wonderfully — strong, clear, and yet with fun in their voice. Delights for the ears and eyes.

The palace leads, Joan Almedilla (FB) as Lady Thiang and Brian Rivera (FB) as the Kralahome, were less playful (as befits their role in the story), but still fun to watch. Almedilla, in particular, had a lovely singing voice.

The “young lovers” required for the secondary subplot, Manna Nichols (FB) as Tuptim and Kavin Panmeechao (FB) as Lun Tha, were a lovely couple. Panmeechao’s role is not written to provide much character, let alone character development, but he gave it his all and had a great singing voice. Nichols’ role had much more character, and she too brought a playfulness to that character that she expressed whenver she good. Yet another lovely voice (this is one show where the women’s songs — particularly those for more traditional vocal ranges — shine) who was a joy to watch.

The last named pair of interest were the eldest children in each family: Graham Montgomery (FB) as Louis Leonowens and Anthony Chan (FB) as Prince Chulalongkorn. These are much smaller roles, but the two had a great interaction in the reprise of “A Puzzlement”, and Chan was particularly strong in the final scene.

Baylen Thomas (FB) portrayed the small role of Captain Orton / Sir Edward Ramsey.

Turning to the ensemble. The Ensemblist podcast (FB) this year (i.e., “season two”) has traced the evolving role of the ensemble from the early days of Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing to this year’s Hamilton. That evolution can be clearly seen here — unlike last week where the ensemble was a collection of smaller individually named roles and characters, this was was clearly in the 1950s with the ensemble of unnamed interchangeable actors who were predominately in unnamed individuated roles. As such, although the ensemble at times brought some clear fun to the roles (I was thinking in particular of the various children, and the playfulness of some of the wives during the school scene), the power of the ensemble was more in the group singing and dance movements. The adult male ensemble, who portrayed unnamed Guards, Monks, and townspeople, consisted of Andrew Cheng (FB) [Ballet – Guard], Daniel J. Edwards (FB) [Ballet – Propman] , Darren Lee (FB) [Phra Alack, Ballet – Propman], Michael Lomeka (FB) [Ballet – Guard], Nobutaka Mochimaru (FB) [Ballet – Angel/George], Rommel Pierre O’Choa (FB) [Ballet – Simon of Legree], Sam Simahk (FB) [Ballet – Propman], and Jeoffrey Watson (FB) [Ballet – Guard, Royal Court Dancer]. The adult female ensemble,  who portrayed unnamed Royal Wives and Townspeople, consisted of Amaya Braganza [Ballet – Uncle Thomas], Lamae Caparas (FB) [Ballet – Eliza], Michelle Liu Coughlin (FB) [Ballet – Royal Singer], Nicole Ferguson (FB) [Ballet – Royal Singer], Marie Gutierrez (FB) [Ballet – Dog], Mindy Lai (FB) [Fan Dancer, Ballet – Dog], Q Lim (FB) [Ballet – Royal Singer], Stephanie Lo (FB) [Royal Court Dancer, Ballet – Dog], Yuki Ozeki (FB) [Fan Dancer, Ballet – Topsy], and Michiko Takemasa (FB) [Ballet – Little Eva]. The ensemble of Royal Children consisted of Jaden D. Amistad, Kayla Paige Amistad, Adriana Braganza, Amaya Braganza, Rylie Sickles [Princess Ying Yaowalak], Noah Toledo, and CJ Uy. Heather Botts (FB), Tony Marin (FB), Marcus Shane (FB), Rhyees Stump and Kelli Youngman (FB) were the swings. I’m not listing whom was understudying whom — that’s a long list.

As noted earlier, choreography was by Christopher Gattelli (FB), based on the original cheorgraphy by Jerome Robbins. Greg Zane (FB) was the associate choreographer. Yuki Ozeki (FB) was the Dance Captain, assisted by Kelli Youngman (FB). Andrew Cheng (FB) was the Fight Captain.

The music (written by Richard Rodgers, and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett) was under the music supervision of Ted Sperling (FB). David Lai (FB) was the Music Coordinator, and Gerald Steichen (FB) was the conductor. The orchestra consisted of Tim Laciano/FB [Associate Conductor / Synchesizer], Chiho Saegusa [Acoustic Bass]; Mark O’Kain (FB) [Drums / Percussion]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin], Grace Oh (FB) [Concertmaster], Jody Rubin (FB) [Viola], Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Steve Kujala (FB) [Flute / Piccolo]; John Yoakum (FB) [Oboe / English Horn]; Dick Mitchell [Clarinet]; Bill Wood (FB) [Bassoon]; Steve Becknell (FB) [French Horn]; Danielle Ondarza (FB) [French Horn]; Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet]; Andy Martin (FB) [Trombone]; Julie Berghofer (FB) [Harp]; David Witham (FB) [Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]. Dance and Incidental Music Arrangements by Trude Rittmann.

Finally, turning to the production and creative side: The set design by Michael Yeargan was generally good, but had one glaring tour problem: the moving on-stage pillars often obscured the view of the actors for those sitting on the side of the theater. It is as if the design was for a much narrower auditorium, and wasn’t taking tour auditoriums into account. There was also an archaic aspect: a curtain going back and forth to permit scene changes behind it. The costumes by Catherine Zuber worked well, although I cannot gauge their accuracy. Wig and hair design was by Tom Watson. The sound by Scott Lehrer was clear and clean, and the lighting by Donald Holder worked well to establish mood and focus attention. Other production credits: Sari Ketter (Associate Director), Kathy Fabian/Propstar (Props Supervisor), Telsey + Company (Casting), Paige Grant (Production Stage Manager), Colyn W. Fiendel (Stage Manager), Katie Stevens (Assistant Stage Manager), Steve Varon (Company Manager).

The King and I continues at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) until January 21, 2017. Tickets are available through the Pantages website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Pantages Customer Service Warning: Note: The Pantages theatre not only believes that theatre belongs on the stage, it belongs at the front door. They practice security theatre upon entering the theatre, where they do a bag check to make sure that, among other things, you are not bringing dinner leftovers into the theatre because — heaven forfend — I don’t know what. I do know that the Pantages has none of their own parking, and they encourage patrons (especially subscribers) to take Metro — making it impossible to return to one’s car to put away the leftovers. In contrast, theatres such as the Music Center have a more civilized bag check, wherein you can check your bags and coats for storage. If the Pantages insists on Security Theatre bag check, they should provide lockers for non-explosive items so that patrons can check problematic items upon entry and retrieve them as they exit. That is the civilized way to do it — and theatre should be civilized, not the lowest common denominator (and I’ll note that none of the other theatres we attend does bag examination the way the Pantages does it, including movie theatres).

Pantages Season Ponderings: We recently received a note from the Pantages that said: “You know you are going to renew, why not make it easy and let us do the work for you? Sign up now for our annual, hassle-free season ticket auto-renew program by paying $100 DOWN TODAY and never worry about renewal deadlines again! Signing up to auto-renew automatically put you FIRST in line for Season Seat Upgrades.” The problem with this is that they haven’t announced the 2017-2018 season yet. So what might it be? Some tours are no-brainers, such as Something Rotten and Aladdin: The Musical (although some of these may go to the Ahmanson). But what else? It is unknown if Tuck Everlasting will tour, or if the latest Fiddler on the Roof revival will tour. It may be too soon for Natasha and the Great Pyramid or Evan Hansen to tour. There is a Honeymoon in Vegas tour; unclear if it will come to LA. The revival of Gigi will  be touring. On The Town will be touring. Other than that… I’m not sure.

* * *

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).

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:  This was likely our last live theatre for 2017. December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January starts with a Southern California Games Day, followed by Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

 

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Calculus and Magic – “Amélie” @ Ahmanson Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 11, 2016 @ 8:57 pm PDT

Amélie - A New Musical (Ahmanson)It is rare to find a musical that has, at its heart, calculus and mathematics. Yet the magical new musical Amélie, currently in previews and officially opening at the end of the week at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), does. Amélie is a musical that charmed and enthralled me, and had me smiling from beginning to end — so much so that I am considering seeing it a second time (a rarely) so that I could catch some of the magic that I missed.

Amélie is based on the French 2001 Romantic Comedy starring Audrey Tautou, about a shy imaginative girl who changes the lives of those around her for the better. The film, which I saw ages ago, had a magical quality that almost made it slightly surrealistic (you’ll see the same surrealism in the TV show Pushing Daisies, which used Amélie as a model). In the film, Amélie rarely speaks but we see her inner thoughts, and inner thoughts are just the thing to musicalize.

But first, the calculus. As the musical relates, when Amélie is young, her parents mistakenly believe she has a heart condition and choose to home-school her. Her mother teaches her Zeno’s Paradox, which is the notion that one can never go from point A to point B, because of the infinite sequence of going half-way there means you never make it all the way. As a result of this, Amélie uses the paradox as an excuse to never get close to people, because she believes she can never actually be close.

The story told in the musical is roughly the story told in the movie, with some slight reworkings. You can get a better idea of the story by looking at the Wikipedia page for the musical, but note that the synopsis there is of the Berkeley Rep (FB) version. This is a production on the way to Broadway, and there have been reworkings since Berkeley Rep. In particular, a number of story elements from the movie have been restored, and Amélie has been given more songs to highlight her inner thinking and motivation.

Where as the movie used special effects to achieve its magic, the theatrical production uses a mixture of traditional theatrical stagecraft and projections to recreate magic on the stage. This includes an integrative approach to the ensemble, use of puppets, use of set tricks and lighting tricks, combined with effective projections. The net effect is a delight for the eyes, and astonishment for the heart. The clever direction of Pam MacKinnon (FB) and choreography of Sam Pinkelton (FB) combine with the theatrical stagecraft of the production team and the talent of the performers to create something that had me spellbound. I’ll note that this starts even before the show does, look at the opening projection very carefully, and wait….

The version we saw was a one-act, and the songs and scenes were not listed in the program. This is appropriate for a production that may be subject to change before Broadway (but it is hell on a reviewer, especially one like me that might not get publicity material). I found that the productions pace was good, with a particular drive that kept my attention. My wife felt that it was a little long, and could use an intermission. There was one point that I felt would be a good intermission point — right after Amélie runs away after first finding Nemo (heh, heh, Finding Nemo). I wonder if the producers felt that interrupted the drive, or that it left too little material in Act I or Act II. I’d suggest that the audience is enthralled with the character by that point, and will return to see what happens — plus there are a few remaining themes from the movie that could be integrated.

The performance of the lead, Phillipa Soo, supported by Savvy Crawford (FB) as the younger Amélie, was spectacular. She captured the playfullness as well as the enigmatic nature of Audrey Tautou‘s Amélie, which combined with her wonderful singing voice to provide a truly captivating performance. This was a role made for these two young ladies.

As for the rest of the performers, I’m lumping them together as the emsemble, although in the program some are listed as only one character. This is because, at points, they all do various background stuff. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Ensemblist podcast as it has been going through the changing role of the ensemble in the arc of Pulitzer Prize winning plays. This show is clearly in the mold of the Rent and Hamilton ensembles: the actors play specific characters, but they also fill in to give a fullness to the piece, complementing each other in anonymous or small characters in addition to their named roles. This tier of performers were: Adam Chanler-Berat (FB) [Nino], Tony Sheldon [Collignon / Dufayel], Alison Cimmet (FB) [Philomene / Amandine]; Heath Calvert (FB) [Lucien / Lug / Mysterious Man], Alyse Alan Louis (FB) [Georgette / Sylvie], Paul Whitty (FB) [Joseph / Fluffy], Manoel Felciano (FB) [Bretodeaux / Raphael], Harriett D. Foy (FB) [Suzanne], Maria-Christina Oliveras (FB) [Gina], David Andino (FB) [Blind Beggar / Garden Gnome], and Randy Blair (FB) [Hipolito]. Emily Afton (FB) (Dance Captain) and Jacob Keith Watson (FB) were the swings.

Overall, it is hard to highlight individual performance with the lack of a songlist. Suffice it to say that all work together to create an indescribable, beautiful whole. This is truly a holistic show, where the actors just come together magically to tell a story.

As noted earlier, movement design is by Sam Pinkelton (FB), assisted by Associate Choreographer Katie Spelman (FB) and Dance Captain Emily Afton (FB). It is hard to say there is formal dance in this production; certainly, there  is not the traditional theatrical dancing chorus. There is, however, beautiful movement from the opening piece that tells the story of of Amélie’s birth, and the overall movement contributes to the magical whole.

So far, although this is a musical, I haven’t mentioned the writing credits. Amélie features a book by Craig Lucas, with music by Daniel Messé (FB) and lyrics by Nathan Tysen (FB) and Daniel Messé (FB). I found the music to be strong and driving — music that had a good driving energy and was fun to listen to. Lacking the list of songs and having only heard the pieces once, it is hard to identify something specific. I will say that there were precious few slow ballads, and nothing that had me looking at my watch. Orchestrations were by Bruce Coughlin (FB), and musical direction was by Kimberly Grigsby. The orchestra consisted of Kimberly Grigsby (Conductor / Keyboard), Jeff Driskill (FB) (Woodwinds), Adriana Zoppo (FB) (Violin/Viola), Amy Wilkins (Harp), Paul Viapiano (FB) (Guitar), Ed Smith (FB) (Percussion), Ken Wild (FB) (Bass), Robert Payne (Trombone / Contractor). Alby Potts (FB) was the Associate Conductor.  The orchestra provided good sound, but I missed the real full orchestra of last week’s Wonderful Town at the Chandler.

Turning to the production and creative side of the equation. The imaginative scenic and costume design was by David Zinn (FB), which combined all sorts of stuff to create the magical world Amélie inhabited. This was augmented by the lighting design of Jane Cox and Mark Barton and the projection design of Peter Nigrini, which completed the magic. The puppet design of Amanda Villalobos was great, in particular Fluffy the fish. Wig Design was by Charles G. LaPointe (FB), and were suitably imaginative. Sound design was by Kai Harada (FB); it blended into the background as it should. Vocal arrangements were by  Kimberly Grigsby and Daniel Messé (FB). Rounding out the production credits: James Harker (Production Stage Manager), Jim Carnahan CSA and Stephen Kopel CSA (Casting), Cherie B. Tay (Stage Manager), Lora K. Powell (Assistant Stage Manager).

Amélie continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 15. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. You’ll be enchanted.

* * *

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).

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:  Next week brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January starts with a Southern California Games Day, followed by Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

 

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The Original Sister Act | “Wonderful Town” @ Dorothy Chandler

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 04, 2016 @ 12:19 pm PDT

Wonderful Town (LA Opera)userpic=ahmansonIt only took 46½ years.

The first time that the musical Wonderful Town (music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolf Green) trod the boards of the Music Center‘s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, it was in July 1975 under the auspices of the Los Angeles City Light Opera, in a production starring Nanette Fabray. This weekend, Wonderful Town returned to the Chandler, this time in a staged concert production as part of LA Opera‘s celebration of the 100th Birthday of Leonard Bernstein. It was truly a delight to see a form of musical theatre return to the Chandler; it had been absent since the LACLO decamped to the Pantages in the early 1980s. Even more so with this particular show, which demonstrated that after 63 years, it could still sparkle with delight and penache.

As for me, the desire to see Wonderful Town was part of my quest to see shows that I had only heard. I had only hear the original cast CD of Wonderful Town; the 2003 revival is on my wish list. The delight of the show does not come through on that cast album; the stories and personalities are a little flat. Last night put the pieces together, and I look forward to hearing the revival with more modern orchestrations.

The story of Wonderful Town is based upon is Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov‘s 1940 play My Sister Eileen, which in turn originated from autobiographical short stories by Ruth McKenney first published in The New Yorker in the late 1930s and later published in book form as My Sister Eileen. It tells the story of Ruth Sherwood and her younger sister Eileen, who come to New York from Ohio to find fame and fortune: Ruth as a writer, and Eileen on the stage. The plot is light and there are a batch of colorful characters — Mr. Appopolous who owns the building from which they rent a room; Speedy Valenti, who owns a nightclub; Robert Baker who works at a local newspaper; Helen and Wreck, a couple in the building. The characterizations are similarly broad: Ruth is an extremely smart and brash writer who turns off men with her intelligence, Eileen is a ingenue who charms all the men around her. It is very easy to see how this became an early sitcom on TV. You can find the full plot synopsis over on the Wikipedia page.

The LA Opera production, unlike the previous LA Civic Light Opera production, was a concert staging. The principals were all on chairs on the stage, on-book,  going to podiums when they were singing or speaking. They were backed by LA Opera chorus, and joined on a few numbers by a set of dancers. The orchestra and conductor was similarly on-stage. There were no sets other than some projections; the primary props were hats to distinguish different characters. Everyone was dressed in black. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch — the cast and the singers appeared to be having great fun with the show. The concert performance was adapted by David Lee, who also served as the director. Choreography was by Peggy Hickey.

As I noted above, this was the first time I had heard the music in context. There was definitely that Bernstein feel and flair to the music, and the lyrics by Comden and Green seemed much fresher than one might think after 63 years. As always, songs like “Ohio” were earworms, but other songs made much more sense, such as “One Hundred Easy Ways”, “Conga!”, “Conversation Piece”, and “My Darlin’ Eileen”. On the album, you can’t see how these advance the story; on stage, you can. Note to self: I must get that 2003 revival album.

The leads in this production were spectacular. In the primary positions were Faith Prince (FB) as Rose Sherwood and Nikki M. James (FB) as Eileen Sherwood. Prince brought her wonderful comic timing, singing voice, and flair and love of the material to the role. One could clearly see she was having fun up there in all her numbers, but especially in songs like “Conga!” James was also a delight to watch, capturing the role with perfection and comic fun. She was also having fun with the dancing, both in the “My Darlin’ Eileen number and in the scenes at the Viage Vortex”.

On the male lead side was Roger Bart (FB) in far too many roles to list them all (but particularly as the narrator and almost every other major character), and Marc Kudisch (FB) as Robert Baker, the editor of the Manhattanist. Bart was a comic whirlwind, changing characters, voices, and characterizations at the drop of a hat. Literally. He would change hats constantly, and with each hat taking on a new role, from narrator to Speedy Valenti to Delivery Boy to Chick Clark (Newspaper Man) to Policeman to Shoreman. Incredible. Kudisch only had one role — the older newsman Robert Baker — but he nailed it. He was particularly touching in his number “It’s Love”.

The other principal characters were embodied by Tony Abatemarco (FB) (Mr. Appololous), Brian Michael Moore (FB) (Officer Lonigan),  Ben Crawford (Wreck), Julia Aks (FB) (Helen), Elizabeth Zharoff (FB) (Violet), Jared Gertner (FB) (Frank Lippencott), Carlos Enrique Santelli (FB) (Policeman Sean), Theo Hoffman (FB) (Policeman Daniel); and Josh Wheeker (FB) (Policeman Pat).  Of these, Crawford’s Wreck was particularly noteworthy, especially in his number “Pass the Football” and his interactions with Roger Bart.

The LA Opera chorus consisted of Jamie Chamberlin (FB) (S), Nicole Fernandes (S), Renee Sousa (FB) (S), Rebecca Tomlinson (S), Elizabeth Anderson (FB) (A), Aleta Braxton (FB) (A), Sara Campbell (FB) (A), Jennifer Wallace (FB) (A), Daniel C. Babcock (FB) (T), Omar Crook (FB) (T), Charles Lane (FB) (T), Francis Lucaric (FB) (T), Reid Bruton (FB)( B), Abdiel Gonzalez (FB) (B), Mark Kelly (FB) (B), and James Martin Schaefer (FB) (B) [S – Soprano; A – Alto; T – Tenor; B – Bass]. Of particular note here was the female chorus, who were essentially dancing and playing in their chairs, having a load of fun with this music. I love to see this: when those on stage are having fun, the audience feels that and reflects it back.

The dancers, who joined the cast on stage for a few numbers, including “Conga!”, consisted of Richard Bulda (FB) (Dance Captain), Harlan Bengel, Joseph Corella (FB), Hector Guerrero (FB), David Tai Kim/FB, Glean Lewis, James Tabeek (FB), and John Todd (FB). Michael Starr (FB) was the swing.

The LA Opera Orchestra was under the conducting baton of Grant Gershon (FB), who broke into a wonderful dance during “My Darlin’ Eileen”. As I said, everyone was having fun. The orchestra consisted of Roberto Cani (Stuart Canin Concertmaster, 1st Violin), Armen Anassian (Associate Concertmaster, 1st Violin), Lisa Sutton (Assistant Concertmaster, 1st Violine), Margaret Wooten (1st Violin), Ana Laudauer (Principal, 2nd Violin), Marisa Sorajja (Associate Principal, 2nd Violin), Florence Titmus (2nd Violin), Andrew Picken (Principal, Viola), Karie Prescott (Associate Principal, Viola); Dane Little (Principal, Cello), Helen Z. Altenbach (Associate Principal, Cello), Nathan Farrington (Bass), Damon Zick (Reeds – flute, clarinet, Eb clarinet, alto saxophone), Rusty Higgins (Reeds – clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone), Phil Feather (Reeds – oboe, English horn, clarinet, alto saxophone), Glen Berger (Reeds – piccolo, flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone), William May (Reeds – clarinet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bassoon), Ryan Darke (Principal, Trumpet), Rob Schear (Trumpet), Marissa Benedict (Trumpet), Andy Ulyate (Trumpet), William Booth (Principal, Trombone), Alvin Veeh (Trombone), Terry Cravens (Bass Trombone), Alan Steinberger (Piano), Theresa Dimond (Percussion), and Peter Erskine (Drumset). It was great to hear a large orchestra behind a show again.

Finally, turning to the creative credits: the wonderful projections were by Hana S. Kim. They exhibited a depth and playfulness I hadn’t seen before. Lighting design was by Azra King-Abadi. There was no credit for sound design; I got the distinct feeling that the actors were not amplified, and the wonderful sound we were hearing was through the projection of their voices in the hall alone. Take that, Ahmanson acoustics! Additional production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA (Casting Consultant), Trevore Ross (Assistant Director), Lyla Forlani (Stage Manager), Jeremy Frank and Miah Im (Musical Preparation).

I believe there is one more performance of Wonderful Town tonight.

* * *

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).

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:  Next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

 

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Learning is a Journey | “Into the Woods” @ Nobel Middle School

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Dec 01, 2016 @ 8:07 pm PDT

Into the Woods (Nobel Charter Middle School)userpic=nobelLife is a journey, and there are many lessons to be learned along the way. A number of these lessons are captured in Stephen Sondheim‘s 1987 musical Into The Woods, which is currently trodding the auditorium boards at Nobel Charter Middle School (FB) in Northridge. Last night, we went to the Alumni Night performance of the show (essentially, a preview for a receptive audience before opening; our daughter was involved with their charter productions the first two years). I’ll note that this was the first production under new leadership for the Nobel Charter Theatre Arts Department. The founding teachers have moved on to bigger and hopefully better things: Fanny Araña to the position of Magnet Coordinator for Van Nuys High School, and Jean Martellaro to the English Department at Porter Ranch Community School. The Nobel Drama program is now under the direction of Kat Delancy and Artur Cybulski (FB); this production was not only a trial by fire for the students, but a trial by fire for the teachers as well. They certainly didn’t choose something easy for the first show, but that’s the Nobel way — bigger and better, every time.

Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is not an easy show. Unlike past Nobel shows, Sondheim shows have complex melodies and complicated lyrics. They also tend to have much deeper meanings within. Into the Woods is one such show. Although relatively accessible through its use of common fairy tale tropes (Jack in the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, the Baker and his Wife, and many others), Sondheim and Lapine weave these multiple stories into a morality piece, teaching many life lessons about the distinction between the fairy tale world and the real world. If there was any overriding themes to the piece, they are embodied in the statement that “Children Will Listen”, and “Be Careful What You Wish For”. It is at times a dark and foreboding piece; there are numerous meaningless deaths. It doesn’t hide the horror in the stories, but ends on an uplifting note (unlike, say, Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd) — you can teach your children. Whether the middle-schoolers performing this were able to pick apart all the lessons in this show I don’t know. I hope that its development provoked some interesting discussions. I’m of the firm belief that theatre can teach more than drama — it can challenge the mind and the spirit, it can be a space to explore dangerous ideas in a safe way.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot — you can read it over on the Wikipedia page.

Most schools, when presented with a piece such as Into The Woods, retreat to the safety of the licensed “Junior” version. This brings the running time down from three hours, and is essentially just the first “happy” familiar half. It eschews some of the more questionable themes that one might not want to expose to young minds (never mind the fact that those minds have been long exposed to those themes through the Internet). The Nobel Drama team opted instead to license the full version, and pare down much — but not all — of the second half. In particular, they excised the notion of the princes cheating on their wives and of the affair in the woods. They also changed some words here and there (I particularly remember Jack’s mother’s line, where the word “touched” was changed), and I noted that some songs (in particular, the reprise of “Into the Woods” at the end of Act I) were cut (removing my favorite lines, “The closer to the family, the closer to the wine”, and “Slotted spoons don’t hold much soup.” — always great advice to remember). But those unfamiliar with the show probably wouldn’t catch all of that.

They also made some changes particular to a middle-school large cast: they split the narrator into two, and preserved the movie’s distinction from his being the old man, and they added a choral ensemble that came in on major numbers such as “Into the Woods”. This worked just fine; I particularly liked the effect of the ensemble on the show.

[ Note: Unlike my other writeups, I’m not going to attempt to link all the performers. Few, if any, will have professional pages; it seems odd to be linking to Facebook pages of middle-school students. Plus, there are so many of them 🙂 ]

Before I talk about the performance, I must note that this was a middle school cast, at a public school. There was a wide variety of talent, much of it raw. Some songs and performances were a little bit off, but this was head and shoulders above the typical middle school performance you might expect. This being a school and not professional, I’m not going to cite any particularly weak performances (especially as this was essentially a preview and problems are still being worked out). I will note, broadly, the importance in a Sondheim show of making sure that all the words of the song are clear, and that they are said/sung in a way that the audience can here them. There’s lots of hidden meaning in those words; for impact, they need to be clear.

Within the performances, there were some gems I would like to particularly highlight. First and foremost was the production’s Cinderella, Natalie Chavez. She had a very strong voice and handled the songs wonderfully; she also performed and emoted well. Her performance of “No One is Alone” was just spectacular. She is someone I hope will continue in the field — she just really impressed me.

Also strong in both vocal and performance were James Averill’s Jack and Harmony Nielsen’s Witch.  Averill impressed me from the start in the opening prologue with his strong, clear voice, and he seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role. Nielsen was also having fun with the role, and her “The Last Midnight” was just great.

Also worthy of note were the princes, Joseph Gelardi and Derek Bradford. They had the performance aspect down great, capturing the essence of “we’re charming, not sincere”. Quite fun to watch. Also good performance-wise were Gannon Ripchik’s Baker, Sarah Borquez’s Baker’s Wife, and Nina Krassner-Cybulski’s Red Riding Hood.

Jordan Ellison and Erin Miller did a good job as the narrators.

In the smaller character roles were Kylie Hamuel (Cinderella’s Stepmother), Halle Milewski (Florinda), Niaz Bashi Shahidi (Lucinda), Nikki Eaves (Jack’s Mother), Lauren Shane (Milky White), Anthony Dakarmenjian (Cinderella’s Father), Emma Hogarth (Cinderella’s Mother), Everett Zisch (Steward); Jacob Gilliam (Wolf); Kishi Sugahara Strahl (Granny); Jillian Jergensen (Rapunzel); Anthony Carmona (Mysterious Man); Ashlyn Paulson (Witch Double); and Nina Jackson (Giant). A few notes here. Strahl’s Granny was particularly cute. I wasn’t that crazy with the directorial choice for “Hello Little Girl”, although I can understand why it was done. The song was played more for humor; the original notion of a creepy menacing “dirty old man” probably wouldn’t play well with middle-school parents. However, it made the song a bit odd (not to mention that one of the other Nobel Drama Charter members, Quest Zeidler, will always be the wolf to me).

The ensemble consisted of: Melissa Ascencio, Lila Kutchinsky, Jillian McKie, Kayla Mohammadi, Juliana Moore, Liam Naumann, Ashlyn Paulson, Grayson Ries, Zoe Stone, Samantha Biedes, Zoey Francis, Savannah Garrick, Laila Haney, Jahnie Hoffman, Sam Khader, Liana Mzrakyan, Delaney Palitang, Kira Pospeshil, Manny Sosa, Bobbi K Smith, Faith Alhadeff, Dahlia B. Delgadillo, Maya Frank, Samuel Goldenberg, Caitlyn Halpern, Ashley Kho, Kaven Prosperi, and Sophia Tedasco.

Kat Delancy and Artur Cybulski (FB) served as the directors and producers. The choreography was by Abi Franks, Kamryn Siler, and Daniela Johns.

Turning to the technical side: Long gone are the early days of the program, with no microphones, and lighting that couldn’t be adjusted and was overloading the electrical system. This performance had theatre quality sound and full theatrical lighting, reflecting work by sound engineer Tommy Chavez and Lighting Designer Artur Cybulski (FB). As this was a preview, there were some balance problems between the music and the vocals; those should be adjusted by tonight’s opening performance. The scenic design of Ben Tiber and Artur Cybulski (FB)  was also very strong, with one of the best sets I’ve seen at Nobel in ages. Again, I remember the early days of building the set for Grease; my my how this program has grown. Costumes and props were  on loan from Golden Performing Arts.

The Technical Theatre team consisted of: Tiffany Ly and Iona Pitkin (Stage Managers); Josh Pereira, Jenna Doubt, and Brooklyn Burgess (Assistant Stage Managers); Carol Ann Balkcom, Kaira Muzila, Sara Hameed, Vana Boghsian, Samantha Orozco, Julia Williams, and Yume Johnstone (Costume Crew); Josh Pereira, Adam Parra, Jackson Pfau, and Amrit Saund (Sound Crew); Aiden Martirossian, Amir Abuayash, Krisha Ande, Pamela Galleguillos, Caitlyn Missakian, Jas Singh, and Evelyn Morrissey (Light Crew); Chloe Koda, Ashley Metelski, Starlet Meza, Sydney Redmond, Celest Trejo, Emma Fernandez, Aidin Callas, Alexis Bohn, and Avi Saidiner (Set Crew).

There were numerous other adult production staff, but you are likely tired of all these names by now.

There are three more performances of Into the Woods that you can catch at Nobel: Friday and Saturday at 6:30 PM, and Saturday at 2:00 PM (the Thursday performance is ending as I type this). Tickets are available at the door.

P.S.: If you want to see a professional production, note that Into the Woods will be coming to the Ahmanson Theatre in April. Discount tickets are currently 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).

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:  December theatre continues with a staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

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Challenging Convention | “Little Women” @ Chance Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 26, 2016 @ 12:59 pm PDT

Little Women (Chance)userpic=theatre_ticketsI have a number of quests in my life. One quest is to add music to my iPod, and often this includes Broadway and Off-Broadway shows I haven’t seen, but are recommended. Another quest is to see musicals I’ve only heard. This weekend was an opportunity to do the latter, informed by the former, when we went to go see the second preview performance of Little Woman: The Broadway Musical at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway).

Little Women: The Broadway Musical is a 2005 musical written by Allan Knee (FB) [Book], Jason Howland (FB) [Music], and Mindi Dickstein (FB) [Lyrics], based on the 1869 novel by (all together now) Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps surprisingly to some, I have never actually read the novel (although I do recall having a copy of the sequel, Little Men, as a boy, which I also never actually read). So, going in, my only knowledge of the story was from the cast album, which I had really only listened to on shuffle. I knew it was about four sisters, and one was a writer, and that’s about it.

Reading the Wikipedia summary of the book after the show, I came to see that the stage production was a condensation and approximation of the book. It captured, at least based on Wikipedia, the major themes of the books and some of the major incidents. It also played a little loose with the timeline in the book, but not in a way that seemed to affect the themes in the story. Being a condensation, it was only able to draw the characters broadly; I think this is a flaw that would be found in many musicals that are based on condensations of larger novels — the time available makes it difficult to build deep characters and move the story along. For that, you need TV and binge watching.

The focus of the story is the growth of the character Josephine (“Jo”) March from approximately 15 to her early 20s during the time of the Civil War; it is also a semi-autobiographical tale of the original author as represented by Jo. It explores the relationship between Jo and her sisters (Meg, Beth, and Amy); the societal expectations on women in that era; the perceived role of men in relationship to women; and the perceptions of a headstrong, independent, woman to Civil War society. Thinking about that statement as I write it, I’m drawn to a parallel between Jo March and another headstrong literary woman at the end of the Civil War: Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind. One Northern, one Southern. Hmmmm.

As opposed to attempting to write a detailed synopsis, I’m just going to point you to the Wikipedia page. I’d rather use this space to explore my observations on the story and its presentation.

Much of the first act is spent establishing the characters and their personalities. With so many significant characters (the four March sisters and Laurie), that takes a while and quite a few songs (and is very different than a story with one or two protagonists).  The main character, Jo, is someone who must have been quite a draw when the story was first written: strong, independent, headstrong, eschewing the cultural norms. They must not have known what to make of her. In fact — being unfamiliar with the story — I had the feeling at the end of the first act that she might be either asexual or lesbian. There was just some sense about her. That proved not to be the case (and isn’t a surprise given when the story was written), but one wonders if that was an attraction of the book (or is an artifice of the musical). Thinking about her in contrast to Scarlett O’Hara is interesting. Jo achieves what she does through her wits and essentially independent of any man. Scarlett has the wits but keeps them to herself; she manipulates men through her femininity and her exploitation of cultural mores. Is this a reflection on the North vs. the South of the time? Ultimately, both attract the men they need by being themselves — their mates love them for who they are and less as a societal caricature. Both are also fiercely loyal to family and relationships. There are significant differences: Jo starts out poor and earns her money; Scarlett starts out rich, becomes poor, but acquires money through manipulation of men. It is still an interesting parallel.

The authors establish the characters of the other sisters to a much lesser extent, and mostly through interaction with Jo. The superficial aspects are sufficient for a musical, although some of the comments I read on the original production felt that was a flaw. I didn’t see it that way. Let’s look at the characters through the performers that created them.

In the lead position was Ashley Arlene Nelson (FB) as Jo March. We’d seen Nelson before in Dogfight, and she was equally strong here. The characterizations of Jo March I’ve read online talk about her as beautiful. I’m not sure you get that classic beauty with Nelson, but you get that same strong inner beauty that shone through in Dogfight. In fact, you get a bit more — there are these telling little smiles and expressions that are just delightful to watch; her performance brings forth the inner fire within Jo to succeed. As such, her performance is mesmerizing. One of the best places to see this is in her interactions with Laurie — just watch during “Take a Chance on Me”, or her face on the lovely “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. A truly delightful performance.

Jo’s sisters were less strongly drawn in the script, but still gave remarkable performances. Laura M. Hathaway (FB), as Meg, the oldest sister, seems more traditionally drawn. She shines in her interactions not only with her sisters in the group numbers, but in her one-on-ones with John Boone. Again, watch the face and the little things, especially during her number “More Than I Am”. Another remarkable performer was Emma Nossal (FB)’s Beth. In fact, it was her performance in “Some Things Are Meant To Be” that made me realize remarkable acting. She was flying a kite on stage just through her movements, and I could swear that I could see the string to the kite. That’s a great performance, where through craft alone one can create the image and impression of existence of the non-existent.  She also had a lovely singing voice, which you can see in the delightful “Off to Massachusetts” number. The youngest sister, Amy, was portrayed by two actresses: Olivia Knox was the younger Amy at our performance (she alternates with Alea Jordan); Angela Griswold (FB) was the older Amy. Young Amy is primarily in the first act and mostly has group songs, yet is still fun to watch  in her performance. The older Amy has a remarkable and distinctive smile and voice — watching her interact with Laurie in “The Most Amazing Thing” is a delight to watch.

This brings us to Laurie (Theodore Laurence III), the orphaned grandson of the neighbor across the street, Jo’s best friend, and … well, you’ll find out. He is portrayed by Jimmy Saiz (FB), who brings a remarkable energy, spirit, and bounce to the role. You can rapidly see why he and Nelson’s Jo become best friends. Again, he has a strong singing voice that is demonstrated both  in “Take a Chance on Me” and in his wonderful duet with older Amy, “The Most Amazing Thing”.

This brings us to the second tier of characters, who are drawn with a much lighter pen. Rachael Oliveros Catalano (FB) portrays Marmee, the mother of the March clan. The scenes she has show here as the glue of stability for the family, and she has some lovely numbers in “Here Alone” and “Days of Plenty”. Beyond that stability and the tension and pain she is facing as woman running a house while her man is away in the Civil War, we don’t learn much about here. Similarly lightly drawn is Glenn Koppel (FB)’s Mr. Laurence, the wealthy man who lives across the street, and who initially is the caricature of the mean rich man. He has a remarkable transformation in his number with Nossal’s Beth, “Off to Massachusetts”, which is quite fun to watch.

One of the characters we meet in the first scene we don’t see again until the top of the second act. Although also lightly drawn, he is one of my favorite performances — Nicholas Thurkettle (FB) as Professor Bhaer.  Not a super amount of lines, but watch closely his interactions with Jo and his facial expressions — particularly in “How I Am” and “Small Umbrella in the Rain”. That last number in particular I found quite touching — I’m sure many of us know relationships like that.

Laurie’s tutor, and Meg’s eventual husband, John Brooke is portrayed by Stefan Miller (FB). We don’t get to know much about John, but the actor has a great duet with Hathaway’s Meg in “More Than I Am”. Lastly, the authoritarian Aunt March is portrayed by Sherry Domerego (FB). We’ve all known or had an aunt like that (I certainly did). Domerego captures the character to a “T”, and is fun to watch in her number with Jo, “Could You”.

The production was directed by Casey Long (FB); Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB) was the Associate Director. As I’ve written before, as a non-actor I have trouble determining where the actor ends and the director begins, or is that where the direction ends and the acting begins. Perhaps it is the distinction between the individual (which is more acting) and the ensemble (which is management of the group). If so, then this production shows the talent of the direction team in not only bringing out strong individual performances, but it bringing out strong group interactions — be it the interactions of the March sisters in numbers like “Our Finest Dreams” or “Five Forever”, or the small two person interactions I’ve previously mentioned. Supporting the directoral team on this was the choreography of Jessie McLean. The dance numbers in this show weren’t all that fancy, but they worked well and supported the story.

Bill Strongin (FB) was the music director, and presumably the on-stage piano player. It was interesting hearing this with the single piano approach. I was only familiar with the full orchestra approach of the Broadway cast album. The single piano worked just fine.

Turning to the behind the scenes creative and supporting professionals: The scenic and lighting design was by Masako Tobaru (FB). I am always impressed by the creativity of the Chance set designs, and this was no exception. This was a clever mix of large book pages (I am still trying to determine if they printed large sheets, or applied words in a reasonably straight line), a projection along the back, and a raked wooden platform, supplemented by a few movable pieces. It worked remarkably well, and was supported by spectacular lighting that made up quite well for the Chance’s lack of a moving spot. In fact, the lighting and set worked well together to direct the attention to particular areas and lessen the focus on others. The Sound and Projection Design supporting this was by the director, Casey Long (FB). I initially thought I would notice the projections more; as it was, the set and lighting moved my perception of the projections to the background. As a result, they supported, instead of actually defining, the sense of place. Sound was similar, as the actual design was only apparent during the storms. The actors were not miced. This isn’t really necessary in a small space like the Chance, although a few could use a pinch more volume. Costume Design was by Erika C. Miller (FB), assisted by Associate Designer Barbara Phillips. The costumes seemed reasonably period to me, and there was only one minor malfunction (which I attributed to the 2nd preview — a dress didn’t get fully zipped). Original fight choreography was by David McCormick. Teodora Ramos/FB was the stage manager.  You can find a list of the Chance Staff here.

Little Women: The Broadway Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim (where Route 91 meets Imperial Highway) until December 23. You can get tickets through the Chance Online Box Office, or by calling 888.455.4212. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The show is worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre has just announced their 2017 season. In the main series is (1) Claudio Quest, January 27 — February 26 2017, a new musical from the team behind Loch Ness about video games; (2) Middletown, April 21 — May 21; (3) Parade, June 30 — July 30; (4) in a word, September 8 — October 8 ; and (5) Tribes, September 22 — October 22. The TYA Series consists of (1) The Little Prince, February 17 — March 5; and (2) Fancy Nancy, the Musical, May 5 — May 28. The OTR series consists of four shows: (1) How to Conquer America: A Mostly True History of Yogurt on March 1; (2) Ted Malawer’s The Anatomy of Love: OTR LAB Workshop on July 20-23; and (3-4) two TBA shows on May 10 and October 18. The Holiday series consists of The Secret Garden – The Musical, November 24 — December 23 and the return of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, December 8 — December 23. Of these, only one show currently appears worth the 63 mile drive from Northridge: Claudio Quest. As for the other musicals, I’ve seen them up here (or their time period is completely booked). However, I might make an exception if my niece and nephew want to see Parade. If you live in Orange County, however, this looks like a great set of shows for an affordable price.

Dining Notes: Whenever we go to the Chance, we always eat at the same place: True Seasons Organic Kitchen (FB), a healthy organic hot pot restaurant across the street from the Chance. Healthy vegetables, healthy meat, gluten free options, and home-made flavoring broths.

* * *

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).

The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Note that Chromolume Theatre (FB) is doing a “Black Friday” sale, with 20% off their subscription with the code in the linked email. That’s three musicals for just $16 each (and then donate the 20% back for a tax deduction). You only have until midnight on Monday to take advantage of this special.

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:  December starts with Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, and staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. We may get tickets to 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. 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.

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

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Beauty Behind the Humor | “Funny Girl” @ Conundrum @ The Colony

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 19, 2016 @ 3:22 pm PDT

Funny Girl (Conundrum at The Colony)userpic=colonySo shows are very frequently revived — both on Broadway, and in Regional and amateur productions. Hairspray, Caberet, Sound of Music, and similar chart toppers — you’ll find them everywhere. Other shows — although hits in their day — are almost never remounted. I’m still waiting for a local remount of my favorite musical — Two Gentlemen of Verona — and The Rothschilds only had its first revisical since the original. The reason for this differs. For some, the material seems dated — TGOV is one of those, yet Hair gets revived. Some had troubled books. For some, it is the difficulty of finding the right lead to fit the shoes of the original. You’ll likely never see Schwartz’s The Magic Show again for that reason — Doug Henning was unique.

A show in this latter category is the Tony award winning Funny Girl , with book by Isobel Lennart, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Bob Merrill. It was produced on Broadway in 1963 by Ray Stark, directed by Garson Kanin, and starred Barbra Streisand (FB) in her second (and last) major Broadway role. Streisand went on to show in the 1967 film version, and was the personification of the lead character, Fanny Brice. After that…. the show disappeared. No revivals, few remounts. There was talk of a Broadway revival starting at the Ahmanson a few years ago, but that petered out. There was a recent West End revisical that was well received; it is unknown if it is coming across the pond.

So when I saw that a local company (Conundrum Theatre Co (FB)) was producing a revival of Funny Girl, I started to want to get tickets to go. I thought it would be multiple dates in October, which was already getting pretty full. It ended up being just one weekend, and I was unable to go. But that wasn’t the end of the show. Arrangements were made, and the show moved to The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank. The Colony, where we subscribed, had gone dark earlier in the year, and was looking for visiting productions to fill its space. Barbara Beckley of the Colony sent out email to the subscribers about the show, and this was the impetus for us to redeem our last Colony subscription ticket and squeeze in the show, the last Friday of its new performance run that ends November 20.

Returning to the Colony itself was sad. I’m referring to the physical facility. Gone was the celebration of the long producing history of the company. Gone were the various props and awards that filled the facility. Gone were the awards. Gone were the construction pictures. Gone were the familiar company faces, such as Barbara at the welcome desk. It was clear that the Colony, as it was, will not be back. The curtain has come down. Sad, so sad. This has been a very bad year for theatre companies in Southern California.

Luckily, this has been a good year for productions; and this production more than made up for the sadness at seeing the once great Colony down. The mix of up-and-coming theatre folks and seasoned local professionals (there were no AEA credits in the program) worked well. Conundrum Theatre Co (FB), for whom this was their inaugural fully-staged musical, did a very good job with the show with only a few technical problems, especially given their limited rehearsal time. I’m glad that this show ended up at The Colony; perhaps it is a signal that 2017 may see a return to theatre to the stage of the Colony. I certainly hope to see more Conundrum there.

As the show itself hasn’t been around much since the 1960s, you likely are unaware of its plot other than it starred Barbra Streisand. Funny Girl tells a highly fictionalized version of comedienne Fanny Brice’s romance and marriage to gambler Nicky Arnstein. It does this by presenting Brice on a stage awaiting Arnstein’s release from prison. The bulk of the show is a flashback telling of the story, returning to the present at the end. It begins with Brice’s first appears at the Keeney Theatre. It shows her first meeting with Arnstein, her transfer to the Ziegfield Follies, her subsequent marriage, and then the failure thereof. In some ways, this foreshadows the story Streisand would play again in her movie A Star is Born. She rises in  fame, eclipses him, and his ego and traditional male roles doom everything. You can read a much more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page.

However, this is a very fictionalized version of Brice’s story. She wasn’t the innocent when she married him (he was her second marriage); they actually lived together for six years before getting married. He had been to jail before the marriage, and actually sponged off of her for the entire thing. His jail stints were longer, and her performance history was quite differently. But in the theatre, the story becomes the reality; the truth of the story be damned.

In any case, the book is what it is (although Harvey Fierstein — who loves to doctor shows — doctored the West End version). It has its structural problems — the first act is far too long; the second doesn’t have the energy of the first. It was troubled in development, and like Mack and Mabel, does not end happily ever after. It is also a star vehicle, and requires a fairly unique mix of talent to be successful. Most actresses cannot carry it off. It requires a mix of physical comedy, comedic presence, dance, a belting voice, and the correct ethnicity. This is not a Kelli O’Hara show. It was ultimately built for Streisand, and there are few like her.

Luckily, it was in the leads that this show excelled. Moreover, I’m saying that in clear knowledge that we had the understudy as our lead. Victoria Strafuss (FB)’s portrayal of Fanny Brice was spot on. She brought good comedic timing, a talent for voices, faces, and physical comedy, and an excellent and strong singing voice to the stage. One of the hardest things for an actress and trained dancer to do is be bad; yet Strafuss was able to do this in the scenes with the rest of the ensemble, cleverly being just a little off to show how Brice wasn’t the typical chorine. She was able to bring back her grace when it was needed, showing that it was indeed an act. She also had a very strong voice and was more than capable with her numbers in the show. Given that she has some major numbers — “People”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” — combined with some numbers that required extensive comedy timing — “You Are Woman, I Am Man”, “Sadie, Sadie”, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” — that’s a high compliment. Coming into the show, I ran into another audience member who was disappointed that we had the “understudy”. I hope he was as impressed by her performance as I was. Ms. Strafuss is someone I hope to see more of on the Southern California stages. (The role is normally portrayed by Jackie Brenneman (FB))

Her object d’amour, Nick Arnstein, was portrayed by Michael Cortez (FB). Although he wasn’t Omar Sharif, he had the requisite style, flair, and voice to pull off the role, and had a good chemistry with Ms. Strafuss. The two worked well together. My wife, when asked about Michael, thought his portrayal was “suitably sleezy”. Given the character, that’s high praise :-).

The main supporting roles — Eddie Ryan and Mrs. (Rose) Brice — were also portrayed quite well. Steven Duncan Sass (FB)’s Eddie Ryan was a very strong dancer and gave off a very affable chemistry, together with a very nice singing voice. Alison Korman (FB)’s Rose Brice had the right air of a mother, and had a good singing voice and stage presence. The two worked well together in their join number “Find Yourself a Man”. In smaller supporting roles were Mark Melo (FB) [Tom Keeney/Renaldi], John Hamilton Scott [Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr], Tina Oakland Scott [Mrs. O’Malley], Meggan Taylor (FB) [Mrs. Strakosh], and Anne Wendell/FB [Mrs. Meeker]. All brought appropriate characterizations to their roles.

Rounding out the ensemble were Ashley Byrd [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble], Bernie Escarga/FB [John / Featured Ensemble]; Catriona Fray (FB) [Dance Swing / Ensemble Dancer]; Alexandria Gates (FB) [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Dahyla Glick (FB) [Emma / Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Kathleen MacCutcheon (FB) [Mimsy / Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Amy Mendonca (FB) [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Nick Mestakides (FB) [Tenor / Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Melissa Padilla/FB [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; Amanda Jane Salmon (FB) [Jenny / Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; April Sheets/FB [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble]; and Jenny Torgerson (FB) [Ziegfeld Dancer / Ensemble / Swing]. It is difficult to identify exactly who is who in the ensemble, but I do want to make a few comments. When I see an ensemble, not only do I want to see steps executed right, but I want to see the joy the actors have on stage being radiated out into the audience. I want to see them becoming who they think their character is, as opposed to an anonymous dancer. With that in mind, I’d like to call out a few ensemble members for particular note. There was a short dark-haired member who I believe was Amy Mendonca (FB) who particularly caught my eye for the joyful smile she had during her numbers; this was more than the painted on smile you sometimes see — this young lady was particularly having the time of her life there on stage, and it was just a joy to see and share. There was also a tall blond member, who I believe was Kathleen MacCutcheon (FB), who did very well with the rifles in the Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat number.  Nick Mestakides (FB) was great as the tenor in the “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” number.

Stamford Hill was the understudy for Florenz Ziegfeld.

The production was directed by Bryan Snodgrass (FB), and as usual I have difficulty determining what was the actor, and what was the director. Still, the director did have the notion of simplifying the production to emphasize the flashback aspects of it; he also handled overall movement well and did a good job of ensuring the proper characterizations resulted. This was augmented by Toni Fuller (FB)’s choreography, which was simplified a bit due to the nature of the Colony stage, the number of actors, and the varying skill level. I found the dance numbers enjoyable, particularly “Coronet Man” and “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”. Jenny Torgerson (FB) was the dance captain; Mindy Copeland (FB) was the Tap Coordinator, and Angela Tousley (FB) was the Color Guard Consultant.

Music was under the direction of Ryan Luévano (FB), assisted by Michael Griffin (FB). The orchestra was situated on the side balconies of the Colony, which I had never seen in use before. In general, the orchestra could use a little more energy (especially in the overture), and I heard perhaps one or two off notes. No biggie on that, but there was a greater problem with the lights from the Orchestra shining into the eyes of the audience members. Shade the lights on those music stands, folks, so they shine down, not out. The orchestra consisted of: Sage Barton (FB), Sara Jones (FB), Beth Reno, and Yu Ting Wu (FB) on Violins; Thom Fountain, Ki Yeon Kim/FB, and Marylin Winkle on Cello; Michael Griffin (FB) on Piano; Cody Samuel Vaughn/FB and Felipe Guzman Martinez/FB on Drums; Jeff Markgraf on Bass; Katherine Hildebrant/FB on Reed I; Dan Gonda (FB) on Reed II; Carlos Herrera/FB on Reed III; and Harold York on Reed IV.

Turning to the remainder of the production and creative team. The scenic design was by Emily Mae Heller (FB), who also was the Producer. The nature of the Colony stage (slightly thrust, no curtain) combined with what I am sure was a limited production budget meant that the scenic aspect was simple: a dressing table to the side, some tables and such that could be brought on as necessary, and a wooden structure along the back that held all the props, much as a bookshelf would hold the props backstage (and hence, suggested the backstage and flashback nature of the show). Not realistic as one might see on a big-budget Broadway show, but it worked. What had more problems was the execution of Jay Lee‘s Sound Design, and Kevin Vasquez (FB)’s Lighting Design. With respect to the sound, at the beginning the microphones were very muffled, and only sounded right when the additional reverb was added for the “Nicky Armstein”. As for the lighting, there were two factors that tended to distract: first, there was a collection of Lekos above the main stage that were programmed to be flashing on and off in various dance numbers — this served to distract vs. augment. Additionally, there were problems with the follow spot not always following well. The costume design was by Sasha Markgraf/FB, and mostly worked. Most of the issues were with ensemble costumes. There was an early number with the ensemble in black leotards where white undergarments were visible around the legs; there was a later Ziegfeld Follies number where there was an odd camisole that just wouldn’t have worked on a real stage. There were also some chronological inconsistencies, such as camouflage leggings that would not have been used in that time period. However, I’m willing to suspend disbelief, as I understand production budgets. There is no credit for makeup; Ariana Castiglia/FB was the wig designer.  Mandee Mitchell was the stage manger, assisted by Owen Panno (FB).

Given how long it has taken me to write this, there are three more performances of Funny Girl: today at 8pm, and tomorrow at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are available through Ovation Tix, and discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. I found it enjoyable.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). 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:  November concludes with Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. December starts with Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, and staged concert of Wonderful Town being performed by the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The next week brings the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The third week of December brings  The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). December concludes with an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just a single hold date for Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). 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. 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.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-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: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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