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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The theatre drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. October concludes with  This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights. Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

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

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

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

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A Southern Story | “Bright Star” @ The Ahmanson Theatre

Bright Star (Ahmanson Theatre)I have a wide ranging taste in music (as anyone who has listened to the 41,583 songs on my iPod on shuffle knows), but one of my longest lasting musical loves has been folk music, which branches very quickly into its kissing-cousins: Bluegrass and Celtic. So when I learned that Steve Martin (FB) — of King Tut fame — was not only an accomplished Bluegrass musician but was working on a musical with Edie Brickell (FB) — another accomplished musician — I was intrigued. I got the cast album of the musical (Bright Star), and fell in love with the music. So I was very pleased when a tour was announced, and the show became part of the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) season. We saw it last night, and even through a headache, we fell in love with the show.

The story of Bright Star is a hard one to describe, especially because going into too much detail might derail the second act. Suffice it to say that the story explores the interconnection between two families in North Carolina: the Murphy family and the Cane Family. It focuses on two relationships. The first is the relationship between Alice Murphy, the daughter of a local preacher, and Jimmy Ray Dobbs, the son of the Mayor. The second is the relationship between Billy Cane, who has just returned from WWII, and Margo Crawford, who has been waiting for him. The time frame varies from the time of Billy’s return and shortly thereafter, to times in the past when Alice was Billy’s age.

I had had an inkling of the story from the cast album before going in, but I still found it wonderfully touching. The pacing of it unfolded well, giving us time to get to know the characters and their motivations, which made what happened in the second act much more effective.

The music of the show is squarely in the bluegrass and folk realm, with twinges of country and gospel. It is a genre that is underrepresented on Broadway — the only other musicals with scores of this style are The Robber Bridegroom and Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge. I loved it, and I strongly recommend listening to it. We were lucky enough to have the key voice on the album, Carmen Cusack (FB), playing the same role in Los Angeles.

The staging of the show, as conceived by director Walter Bobbie (FB) and choreographer Josh Rhodes (FB), was beautiful. The band was primarily in a wooden house on the stage that the characters kept moving around and turning around. The ensemble remained in fluid motion around and behind the characters, transforming scenes as needed. I found it magical and charming (but then, I liked Amalie as well for similar reasons). This was one of those shows with what I would call a representative set — small stage pieces that represent a place — as opposed to some of the hyper-realistic sets you might see in another show. It worked, and it worked well.

The casting was spectacular. As noted before, the lead character of Alice Murphy was played by the originator of the role, Carmen Cusack (FB). It was no surprise, therefore, that the role fit her like a glove, and she was able to be playful and quirky and to truly inhabit the character. She also had a wonderful voice for the part. As I’m typing this up, I’m listening to the album she recorded at 54 Below, and it is just a marvelous voice.

Playing opposite her as her love interest Jimmy Ray Dobbs was Patrick Cummings (FB). Cummings had great chemistry with Cusack, especially in the scene where we see the relationship between the two while he is working on the icebox. Not a great surprise – he had also been with the cast for a while and was the understudy for Jimmy Ray on Broadway. He also had a wonderful voice for bluegrass.

Leading the other key relationship as Billy Cane was A. J. Shively (FB), who was also in the Broadway cast in that role. Lovely singing voice, great playfulness and earnestness. I particularly liked him in the “Another Round” number and in his interactions in both the bookstore and at the literary publisher.

Billy’s love interest, Margo Crawford, was played by Maddie Shea Baldwin (FB). Her role was smaller, but she shone in it, providing a lovely light and lightness in her scenes. She had a lovely singing voice.

In terms of recognizable supporting characters, there were two primary sets. The first set were what were essentially comic relief characters in Ashford at the publishing company: Daryl Ames [Jeff Blumenkrantz (FB)] and Lucy Grant [Kaitlyn Davidson (FB)]. Both played their roles perfectly. Blumenkrantz is a master of comedy; this was demonstrated the last time we saw him in Murder for Two.  He captured the sardonic nature of his character quite well. Davidson was a good foil: good looks, good delivery, wonderful movement, and great expressions. Both were just fun to watch.

The other set of supporting characters were the parents of the leads: Stephen Lee Anderson as Daddy Murphy; Allison Briner-Dardenne (FB) as Mama Murphy; David Atkinson (FB) as Daddy Cane; and Jeff Austin (FB) as Mayor Josiah Dobbs. All brought the requisite characterization and authority to their roles; many had played them on Broadway. Anderson, Briner-Dardenne, and Austin had particular nice voices for this music. I’ll note we’ve seen Atkinson many times before, being subscribers to  Actors Co-op (FB).

Rounding out the cast in smaller and ensemble roles were: Devin Archer (FB) [also: u/s for Jimmy]; Audrey Cardwell  [also: Edna, u/s Alice]; Max Chernin (FB) [also: Max, u/s Daryl]; Robin de Lano (FB) [also: County Clerk, u/s Mama Murphy]; David Kirk Grant (FB) [also: Dr. Norquist, u/s Mayor Dobbs]; Kevin McMahon (FB) [also: Stanford Adams, u/s Daddy Cane]; Alessa Neeck (FB) [also: Florence, u/s Margo and Lucy]; and Michael Starr (FB) [also: u/s BIlly]. Swings were Kelly Baker (FB); Richard Gatta (FB) [also: Fight and Dance Captain]; Donna Louden (FB) [also: u/s Alice]; and Robert Pieranunzi (FB) [also: Asst. Dance Captain.] This group should be noted for their beautiful and fluid movement, in addition to the characters they portrayed. They seemed to be having quite a bit of joy and fun with their roles.

Music was provided by a wonderful on-stage bluegrass band: I would have gone just to hear a two hour concert of these wonderful musicians. The band was under the musical direction of Anthony De Angelis (FB) – conductor, piano. The other members — onstage and in the pit — were: Jason Yarcho (FB) – Assoc conductor, accordion, autoharp; George Guthrie (FB) – banjo, acoustic guitar; Eric Davis (FB) – acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Wayne Fugate (FB) – Mandolin, acoustic guitar; Martha McDonnell (FB) – violin / fiddle; Skip Ward (FB) – bass; Joe Mowatt (FB) – drums / percussion; David Gold (FB) – viola / violin; and David Mergen (FB) – cello. Peter Asher (FB) was the music supervisor; Rob Berman (FB) was the supervising Music Director and did the vocal arrangements; and  Seymour Red Press as the Music Coordinator. Orchestrations were by August Eriskmoen (FB).

Rounding out the production and creative credits: As I noted earlier, the scenic design of Eugene Lee, with scenic design supervision by Edward Pierce (FB), worked very well to create the scene and the mood. This was supported quite well by the costume design of Jane Greenwood, the lighting design of Japhy Weideman, the sound design of Nevin Steinberg, and the hair and wig design of Tom Watson. Everything seemed suitably North Carolina and of the period; the moving set pieces worked well, and the lighting and sound worked to establish mood well.  Additional production credits: Lee Wilkins (FB) – Associate Choreographer; Howard Cherpakov, CSA– Original New York Casting; Calleri Casting (FB) – Additional New York Casting; Michael Donovan, CSA– Los Angeles Casting; Anjee Nero (FB) – Production Stage Manager; David Van Zyll De Jong – Company Manager; Larry Morley – Touring Technical Supervisor; Kirsten Parker  and Susie Walsh – Stage Managers.

Bright Star continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through November 19, 2017. Tickets should be available through the Ahmanson Website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. A little later today, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Halloween brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

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

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

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

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Hit The Road, Nat | “To Ray, With Love” @ Saroya/VPAC

To Ray With Love (VPAC/Saroya)Last night saw us back at  The Soraya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)] for a night of Jazz: Maceo Parker (FB)’s tribute to Ray Charles (FB) [who died in 2004], featuring the Ray Charles Orchestra and the Raelettes (Katrina Harper (FB), Karen Evans (FB), and Elaine Woodard (FB)). Alas, I had no paper and thus didn’t note down a set list. Musically, the orchestra was spectacular with a swinging sound that went well with both Parker’s voice and sax. The Raelettes joined for the latter third of the show and added some wonderful dimension and fun to the voices onstage.

The Ray Charles Orchestra, led by Steve Sigmund (FB) [Music Director], consisted of Harvey Wainapel (FB) – Alto Saxophone; Alford Jackson – Alto Saxophone; Rickey Woodard (FB) – Tenor Saxophone; Louis Van Taylor (FB) – Tenor Saxophone; Adam Schroeder (FB) – Baritone Saxophone; Chuck Parrish (FB) – Lead Trumpet; Ted Murdock (FB) – Trumpet; David Hoffman (FB) – Trumpet; Ken Scharf (FB) – Trumpet; Dan Marcus (FB) – Trombone; Ken Tussing (FB) – Trombone; Steve Baxter (FB) – Trombone; Rich Bullock (FB) – Bass Trombone; Ernest VanTrease – Keyboards; Jeff Pevar (FB) – Guitar; Nils Johnson (FB) – Bass; and Paul Kreibich (FB) – Drums.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have its problems. Here’s what I noted, from most to least annoying:

  • Parker’s manager, Natasha Maddison (FB), was an extreme distraction during the show, especially from where we were sitting in the side chairs in the Partierre Terrace. She was constantly peaking out from the wings (not visible from straight-on, but visible from the side), constantly going out in to the audience up to the sound board and back, coming out at times to talk with the music director, and most annoyingly: taking flash photographs from the wings. That’s the ultimate no-no: You do not distract from your artist’s performance.
  • Next up was all the audience members who thought they could take pictures, take video, or check the score of the Dodgers game (who are going to the World Series – yea!). There are a number of reasons not to use your cell phone during a concert — recording takes the intellectual property of the artists without compensation, for example. But a primary reason is this: Every time your screen lights up in a dark theatre, you distract everyone else in the audience and distract the artists on stage, for in a dark room, light is very visible. So YOU could be that person that ruins someone else’s evening, all to do something selfish.
  • Then there are those audience members wearing too much perfume. There are many people with allergies and sensitivities to odor. When you overuse your perfume, such that your transmit a cloud as you walk down the aisle, you could be triggering allergies and migraines in others. Again: This is not something you need to do to enjoy a concert; it is putting your pleasure over the enjoyment of others. If you must perfume, perfume very lightly.
  • This is not a Dodger game. Wait until the show is completely finished — signaled by the house lights coming on — before rushing to leave. It is discourteous to the artists to walk out early, and disturbs your fellow audience members.
  • Lastly, the program indicated there would be an intermission. There was no intermission.

An artist’s manager should know proper show etiquette.  People attending a concert should know how to behave. I shouldn’t need to be saying any of the bullets above.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday; on Sunday, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Halloween brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), as well as The Kingston Trio (FB) at the Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks (FB). The third weekend will bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

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

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

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

 

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The Magical Morphin’ Dreamcoat | “Joseph … Technicolor Dream Coat” @ 5-Star Theatricals

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (5 Star Theatricals)Sunday afternoon we saw the first show of the 2017-2018 5 Star Theatricals (FB) Premiere season, even though we’ve been subscribing at the theatre for 16 years, since the 2000 season. Perhaps I should explain. Over the summer, what was Cabrillo Music Theatre was rechristened “5 Star Theatricals”; we, however, have been subscribing since Anything Goes in the Fall of 2000 (with the exception of the 2014-2015 season). Over that time, we’ve seen a wide variety of shows at the theatre — including, way back in Summer 2003, a little show called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as part of the 2002-2003 season. As part of the 2017-2018 season, 5-Star opted to revive the show at 14 years and see if they could find something fresh in it. The result was an interesting updated take on the show: some aspects worked, and some didn’t, but overall it was quite enjoyable. [I’ll note that 5-Star is reviving yet another show they’ve done before later in the season: they last did Beauty and the Beast back in 2007, 10 years ago.]

Now, this isn’t our first experience with Joseph. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is a late 1960’s pop cantata, 35 minutes long— it was the first published work by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. After the success of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, it was rewritten and lengthened with some novelty musical numbers — but at its heart, it is a simple pop cantata, essentially sung through.  I know, I’ve had the original pop cantata album for years. It tells the Biblical story of Joseph from the incident with the coat of many colors through the brothers return to Egypt through pastiches of musical styles, and is — to put it succinctly — cute. It requires some strong lead vocals, and has loads and loads of choral parts. The first time I saw the show on stage was the tour of 1982 Broadway Show when it was at the newly remodeled Pantages theatre  — in fact, I think it was one of the first shows after the remodeling. Since then, it has been lengthened a little each time it hits Broadway again. This adds material, not depth. None of this is anything to those who license it can change. The most recent time that I’ve seen the show was in December 2014, when it was performed by Nobel Middle School.

So if the text of the show can’t be changed, and the lyrics of the songs can’t be changed, how does one freshen the show. The answer is simple and triparte: staging, dance, and music. Although the story can’t be changed, the director (in this case Will North (FB)) can adjust the energy and diversity of the cast to influence the story’s perception; the addition of children and wives, in only singing roles, can influence the cuteness. The director can also influence the staging of the scenes in both positive and negative ways. The dance styles of the show are not fixed (unlike, say, West Side Story where Jerome Robbin’s dance is part of the staging). In this case, 5-Star selected a choreographer, Dave Scott (FB), who comes not from the theatre world but the modern pop “hip hop” dance world — and he brought a very different dance sensibility to the show. Lastly, the Musical Direction (in this case by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB)) can slightly adjust songs — lengthening them through reprises, or introducing extended dance breaks in a piece. All three of these things were done in this production to make it slightly different than past Josephs.

Did it work? That’s a different story, but for the most part, the answer is yes.

There were some staging elements that had me scratching my head. In particular, during “Those Canaan Days”, there was inexplicably a mime, a fairy, and the Les Miserables red flag. Why? There was also the overuse of the projected Instagram graphics and the overuse of the animation and cuteness in the projections. But other things worked well. The diversity of casting of Joseph’s brothers brought an interesting overtone and meaning to the scene where they come to Egypt, and Joseph doesn’t trust them. Could the Bible have been foreshadowing current society’s lack of trust of unknown foreigners and people different from them? I have no idea, but this is what diversity in casting can bring. (Similarly, I read about a production of Oklahoma that cast Judd as a black man, which put the relationship with Laurie in a completely different light, and would have been realistic). The Children’s Chorus made me melt with the cute of it all. The addition of the female dancers (generally portrayed as wives), added a lot of dance energy. The addition of the school choirs brought in a lot of parents to see their kids — always a good thing for the energy of a show.

The staging — and especially the costume design of Beth Glasner (FB) assisted by the wigs of Leo Quang Zeller (FB) — emphasized the cultural anachronisms in the show. In general, the traditional “biblical” style was replaced by a hip-hop street sensibility for the brothers (although Jacob remained in robes, and Joseph in a loincloth); Egypt was more “King Tut”; and the musical pastiches were area-appropriate. For some odd reason, there was writing on the Egyptian wigs that I couldn’t figure out. One other costuming / makeup comment: Cover the tats. Whenever I see real tats on an actor, it takes me out of the make-believe of their character into the reality of the actor, and I wonder what they are and what their symbolism is. That’s an unnecessary distraction.  I noticed them on the Assistant Choreographer; my wife noted them on some of the male dancers.

Similarly, the new approach to dance worked well. There was a problem in that the non-theatrical dance sensibility made the dance less part of the story, and more a separate performance aspect (especially so in the ending mega-mix). But the energy and the quality of the dance was top-notch, and the additional styles of dance made what is, admittedly, a overstretched and overstuffed and over-pastiched cantata into a dance show accessible for a modern generation. All in all, that’s a good thing. It was the best they could do given the limitations of the story.

The one change that consistently worked well was the stretching of the music to provide extended dance and the occasional reprise.

Turning to the performances, this was in general top-notch. In the lead position was Adam Hollick (FB) as Joseph and Laura Dickinson (FB) as the Narrator. My wife’s summation of Hollick: Beefcake with a voice to match. I’d have to agree (and I’m not into beefcake). This is a guy who came into school on a football scholarship (so he has the bod), then transitioned to vocal performance and opera singing before transitioning again into acting and the musical theatre world. He had one of the nicest and smoothest voices I’ve ever heard as Joseph, and he captured the emotion of the character well (well, as much as there is in this lightweight show).  Dickinson brought a powerhouse voice and movement to the Narrator — this is much more of a singing than an acting role, for as the narrator she moves the action along. But that she did, with a remarkable fluidity and presence.

Another character role that stands out is Pharaoh, normally portrayed as an Elvis-type. One wonders how much of the audience even remembers Elvis, but I digress. He was popular in the 70s when this was written. Pharaoh was portrayed by Patrick Cassidy (FB) — yes, of David Cassidy and Shirley Jones fame. Cassidy has done this show many times before (I’m guessing as Joseph), and he was clearly having fun with his role here — and that fun comes across to the audience. He was a delight to watch, had a great singing voice, and got the Elvis moves down well.

Next come Joseph’s brothers: Reuben – Marc Ginsburg (FB); Judah – Mitchell Johnson (FB); Levi – James Olivas (FB); Benjamin – Patrick Viloria (FB); Asher – Cedric Dodd (FB); Naphtali – Derek A. Lewis (FB); Simeon – at our performance, Adlai Musia (FB), but normally Neico Joy (FB); Issachar – Rodolfo Larrazolo (FB); Dan – Rile Reavis (FB); Zebulon – Zy’heem Downey (FB); and Gad – Kyron Correia (FB). Most of these become interchangeable on stage unless you can memorize faces quickly, but all had great dance moves and got the choreography down well. A few were worth singling out. James Olivas, as Levi, got to take the lead in “One More Angel”, and he did a great job with capturing the humor of the piece well. Simarly, Marc Ginsberg as Reuben got the lead in “Those Canaan Days”, nailing the French bathos well. Mitchell Johnson’s Judah got the lead in the “Benjamin Calypso” and handled the calypso/island nature of that well. Lastly, Patrick Viloria’s Benjamin just was great to watch dancing.

In terms of other named characters, two come to mind. First is Cabrillo / 5-Star Regular  David Gilchrist (FB) as both Jacob and Potiphar. Gilchrist is a reliable character actor, who did great with both characters (although Potiphar with a bit of a British accent was odd). What was neat was seeing him rocking out during the mega-mix.  Tyler Stouffer(FB) played the Baker and handled him with aplomb, but was more interesting was his mime during the “Canaan Days” number. The remaining named characters were Michael Mittman (FB)’s Butler and Naomi Pacheco (FB)’s stint as Potiphar’s wife. She also served as Assistant Choreographer, which explains her great dance.

Rounding out the cast were the various ensembles and choruses. All of the brothers sans Joseph joined the ensemble at points. Additionally, the following dancers and singers were in the adult ensemble: Julia Lester (FB), Terri Woodall (FB), Rebecca Gans (FB), Devon Davidson (FB), Haley Gilchrist (FB), Alyssa Noto (FB), Alissa Tucker (FB), Miyuki Miyagi (FB), Carolyn Lupin (FB), Julia Marley (FB), and Naomi Pacheco (FB). Looking at the photos, the following folks in the ensemble stuck in my mind from some aspect of their dance or performance: Terri Woodall, Alissa Tucker, and Julia Lester. The kids ensemble consisted of: Rhythm Pacheco, Bayley Tanenbaum, Lilly Thompson, Marissa Margolis, Collin Nelson, Madison North, Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB), Marcello Silva, Andrew Grigorian, Calista Loter, Lal Besir, Luca De La Pena, Amelia Fischer , Savannah Fischer, and Drew Rosen. Can’t speak to talent, but the kids ensemble was adorable. At times, the ensembles were joined on stage by visiting local choirs — a different one each performance. The choirs performing are MATES, Westlake Elementary, Homeschoolers of Ventura County Choir, Red Oak Elementary Choir, EARTHS Elementary Choir, Round Meadow Elementary, Mariposa School of Global Education, Sumac Elementary, Lindero Canyon Middle School, OPUSD – Brookside Elementary, Viewpoint Chorus, and Oaks Christian (Note: I believe we had Round Meadow Elementary at our performance).  Julia Lester (FB) was also the understudy for the narrator.

As always, the newly renamed 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, conducted by Dan Redfeld (FB), sounded great. The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) – Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax; Ian Dahlberg (FB) – Oboe, English Horn;  Melissa Hendrickson (FB) – Horn; Sharon Cooper (FB) – Violin I; Sally Berman (FB) – Violin II; Karen Goulding-Long (FB) – Viola; Bang Eunn Lee (FB) – Cello; Chris Kimbler (FB) – Keyboard I;  Tom Griffin (FB) – Keyboard II; Lloyd Cooper (FB) – Keyboard III; Brian LaFontaine (FB) – Acoustic & Electric Guitars I; Shane Harry (FB) – Double String and Electric Bass; Alan Peck (FB) – Set Drums; Tyler Smith (FB) – Percussion.  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC. Music direction was by Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB).

Turning to the production credits: The production was directed by Will North (FB) with choreography by Dave Scott (FB) [assisted by Naomi Pacheco (FB)]. I’ve already commented on their work. There is no credit for the set design, although the program does indicate that the sets and props were provided by 3-D Theatricals (FB). The set was supplemented with projections designed by Jonathan Infante (FB). The set was a three-level beast with spaces for the various choirs and ensembles on the side, and a top piece that could connect to the projections. The set itself was fine. The problem is the projections attempted to modernize the story, with occasional Instagram snaps related to the story, and graffiti on Jacob’s tent. I’m not sure that worked, but I’m an older audience, not the modern audience. Props were also credited to Alex Choate (FB).  The lighting and sound designs were credited to Jose Santiago (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB), respectively. Both worked well. Other production credits:  Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; Mustang Marketing (FB), Marketing Team; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend of performances for this production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Tickets are available through 5 Star Theatricals (FB) on their ticketing page; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Additionally, 5 Star posted on their FB page: “Use code TEN4JO & save 10% off rear/side orchestra and mezzanine tickets for all evening performances! (Code good through 10/22).” This is an interesting take on a well-worn pastiche. It is enjoyable and presents a lot of great dance, but the updates and juxtapositions are jarring at times and some don’t work. Still, it is worth seeing for the effort and ideas and the attempt alone.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. Thursday sees us back at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) for a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love.  The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday; on Sunday, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Thansgiving brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB). The third weekend will hopefully bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thankgsiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

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

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

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

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Making It Up | UCB at the Soraya (VPAC)

Upright Citizens Brigade (VPAC)The live entertainment break that started when we went off on vacation in August is over, and the theatre calendar thought the rest of 2017 is quite busy. The drought-breaker was the first show in our 2017-2018 season at The Soraya,  the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB): an evening of improv comedy from the Upright Citizens Brigade (FB), featuring Sasheer Zamata (FB) and Matt Besser (FB), with  Jessica McKenna (FB), Hillary Anne Matthews (FB), and one other player who was only named from the stage.

Going in, I noticed that this was one of the most poorly attended shows we’ve been to at VPAC. The upppermost balcony was closed, and I’d estimate the crowd was perhaps one third to one half of its normal size (but significantly younger). I’m not sure why, but this wasn’t the expected draw.

As for the show itself, it wasn’t what we expected — although to be true, we didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps an evening of topic sketch comedy, or a series of standups? What we got was five people, five chairs, soliciting stories from the audience. After hearing each embarrassing story, the improv team would riff on various aspects of the story.

There were points of the show that were very funny, but there were often a lot of misses and missed opportunities. That’s how improv goes, I guess. It’s something that would work well on the small stage of UCB over on Franklin in Hollywood, but I’m not sure it works in the large hall like the Saroya (VPAC). [I’ll never get used to that name.]

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals(FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

The drought has ended, and the last three months of 2017 are busy busy busy. This afternoon brings a supposedly refreshed version of  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at 5 Star Theatricals (the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre) (FB). Thursday sees us back at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) for a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love.  The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday; on Sunday, I’m going to see a thriller penned by the fellow through whom we get our Saroya (VPAC) subscriptions, Schaeffer Nelson (FB) — Mice at the Ensemble Studio Theatre LA (FB) in Atwater Village. The weekend before Thansgiving brings This Land at Company of Angels (FB) in Boyle Heights

Looking into November, we start with the Nottingham Festival (FB) in Simi Valley, followed by The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB). The following weekend brings a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB). The third weekend will hopefully bring Edges at the CSUN Theatre Department (FB) on Friday, the Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on Saturday, and Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) on Sunday. Thankgsiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and hopefully Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical – join the Indiegogo here) at LA Community College Camino Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB).

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

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

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

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From Hamilton to Hitchcock | “The 39 Steps” @ Actors Co-Op

The 39 Steps (Actors Co-Op)And so, with Alfred Hitchcock, our theatre hiatus of almost 6 weeks comes to an end. Between Hamilton, which we saw on August 12 and this production of The 39 Steps, saw us traveling over 4,800 miles (at little over 4,905,290 steps, at the average stride rate).  The break, due to a combination of vacation and other activities, was a palette cleanser. And we’re ready to slowly start back up theatre, and our first show was the first show of the 26th season of Actors Co-Op (FB): Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, adapted by Patrick Barlow.

We last saw The 39 Steps at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in May of 2010. Back then, I wrote about the production: “This is one production I expect to have a long life after the initial tour: it can easily be done by inventive companies.” The show has: I’ve begun to see regional companies doing the show on a regular basis — I think there are two or three doing it in Southern California alone.

Here’s how I described the show back in 2010:

The original “39 Steps” was a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The short version of the plot of that film, from IMDB, is “Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to London. At the end of “Mr Memory”‘s show in a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is running away from secret agents. He accepts to hide her in his flat, but in the night she is murdered. Fearing he could be accused on the girl’s murder, Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring.”. You can find a more detailed summary of the film plot on Wikipedia.

This stage version of “The 39 Steps” is a comic farce interpretion of the movie. It takes the original mystery film, and puts the exact story onstage as if it was done by a group of four British actors at a cheap theatre. One actor takes the Richard Hannay role; one actress takes the three female lead roles (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela, and Margaret)… and the other two men take all of the remaining over 150 roles from the film. Along the way, they throw in every Hitchcock cliche and reference you can think of, including names of every Hitchcock films and most of Hitchcock’s well known situations (such as the shower scene from Psycho and the airplane chase from North by Northwest). They even throw in a Hitchcock cameo!

Making this even more fun is the fact that they don’t do this in the sort of expensive production you’ve come to expect from Broadway these days. They do it on the cheap, using clever invention (such as rear projection, puppets, representational props) to make up for the all-too-common overdone show.

The Actors Co-Op version of the show hewed close to the above, although they slightly altered the framing device and changed the execution as appropriate for an intimate theatre.This production framed the show not as British actors in a cheap theatre, but filming a production in the 1930s. I don’t recall any significant use of rear projection or seeing any puppets (and do not recall any shower scene or Hitchcock cameo). But other than that, the inventiveness was still present — including a great running gag with a window. They used props extensively to create the scene and the place, and it worked very well. They also changed the makeup of the clowns from two men to a man and a woman, which actually added a bit to the humor. They even brought in the Maltese Falcon.

Not being familiar with the script, I can’t say how much of the invention is dictated by directions in the script (stemming from the original production), and how much comes from the director (in this case, Kevin Chesley (FB)). If I had to hazard a guess, I’d estimate about 60/40, with the story giving the basic manic structure and suggesting broad execution approaches, and the director filling in the specifics and adding additional references and tricks as they saw fit. Assuming that is the case, then Chesley did well with this. Not only was he able to capture the farce timing required for this show, and not only did he pull all of the distinctly different characters out of the actors, but he was able to adapt the story from a well-funded production on a proscenium stage to an intimate theatre (under 99 seats) production in the three-quarter round, using no rear projections and a basic set of props.

The actors also captured the farce nature of the show well. In the lead position was Kevin Shewey (FB) as Richard Hannay. He was the straightman to the farce, the person moving the plot forward while being the center and catalyst for the comedy. He did this well, maintaining his composure in the madness. His regular ingenue was Lauren Thompson (FB), who played the main named female roles: Annabella, Margaret, Pamela, and the Radio Announcer. Demonstrating a variety of accents and personalities, Thompson was fun to watch. Both had to perform quite a bit of physical comedy, which came off well.

Supporting them were the two clowns, Townsend Coleman (FB) and Carly Lopez (FB), who covered the remaining 10,000 characters and roles. Well, probably less than 10,000, but it was a lot.  All of these characters — different sexes, different dialects — required lots of physical comedy and quick costume changes, which were executed well. It was fun to watch.

Supporting this effort was the production team: Scenic designer Stephen Gifford (FB) and Prop Master Lori Berg (FB) worked together to provide a very inventive stage and loads of props to support the storytelling (and where did she find the phone decanter). Adding to this were the equally inventive costumes of Vicki Conrad (FB).  Warren Davis (FB)’s sound design provided the appropriate sound effects and ominous music, and Andrew Schmedake (FB)’s lighting design provided the, umm, appropriate lighting effects and ominous lighting. Adam Michael Rose (FB) dialect coaching provided the appropriate dialects and the ominous … well, suffice it to say that the show has a large number of dialects — multiple English and Scottish dialects, as well as German — and Rose helped the actors get the different dialogs down pat. Rounding out the production team were: Derek Copenhaver (FB) [Stage Manager], Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB [Assistant Stage Manager], Nora Feldman [Publicity], Jorie Janeway (FB) [Producer], Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manager].

The 39 Steps continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through October 29th, 2017. Tickets are available by calling Actors Co-op, or through their website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The production is clever and extremely funny, and well worth seeing.

Note: There was one non-production related discordant note. We’re Jewish. Actors Co-op (FB) is a ministry of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood [FPCH] (FB), which is noted in every program in their mission statement. We have no problem with that — we’ve attended productions from other church ministry theatre groups such as ELATE, and we’ve never noticed any overt proselytizing — only excellent theatre. That’s why we subscribe and recommend this company to others — excellent theatre. However, as we were leaving the show, we noticed a sign on the side of their fellowship hall from FPCH indicating their ministries, which included Jews for Jesus. JFJ and similar groups (the so-called “Messianic Jews”) are problematic for Jews, as they have, as part of their mission, conversion of Jews to Christianity, and they often use misleading tactics to do so. That FPCH supports them does make clear their Christian nature; still, seeing that sign gave this Jewish audience member pause. It will likely be rotated out by the next time we’re on campus, but the company might consider discussing with FPCH the impact of publicizing such ministries on the broader theatre audience attending their shows.

Dining Notes: Normally we hit the local Fresh Brothers Pizza (FB). They are near the theatre, have great gluten-free options, and most importantly, their own parking. Last night, however, we wanted something different as I’m trying to reduce my cheese consumption. Our choice was Localli (FB), which is about 1 block further east than Fresh Bros (on the E side of Gelsons). They also have their own parking lot. It is a combination health-food market and sandwich shop, with some excellent and tasty sandwiches and salads — healthy, and available gluten-free and vegan. It isn’t fancy. Still, I think we’ll be back. There’s also a Thai Restaurant — Pimai It’s Thai (FB) — in the same parking lot that we might try next time.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

September is very quiet for theatre — The 39 Steps is our only show. I’ve been looking at the shows coming across Goldstar, and there’s not much that is drawing me to them. So we’ll see about how the upcoming weekends fill out. Currently, our October theatre begins mid-Month with  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB). The third weekend in October brings Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). December brings ACSAC 2017 in San Juan PR, the Colburn Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB),   Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB), and our Christmas Day movie. More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

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

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Imperfect Men, a Perfect Union | “Hamilton” @ Pantages

Hamilton (Pantages)Singing and dancing founding fathers. They’ve trod the Great White Way slightly more times than professional sports have. Some — like 1776 — have been spectacularly successful. Others — like Mr. President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Ben Franklin in Paris — have been less so. All have portrayed our leaders as ultimately human, as flawed men that have worked towards a more perfect union.

Two years ago, another musical in this genre burst upon the scene. In doing so, it did what few musicals have done since the Golden Age of Musicals. It entered the vernacular. It spoke a musical language that moved from the stage to the airwaves, with an album that has gone triple platinum. It spoke and moved the hearts not just of the greyhairs that typically attend musicals, but of the everyday people. It spoke to the people of today — the immigrants that works as hard as they can and give more than 100% to make this nation great, to the women who have worked equally hard and been equally smart but have often blended into the background. It demonstrated that the storybook history is fantasy, that the real sausage-making is only seen by those in the room where it happened, and that those who tell the story are just as important in coloring it — or removing the color — as those who were there. This musical, like West Side Story, Hair, and Rent, spoke to the people and conflicts of today while couching it in the language of the stage. This musical demonstrated to a generation the power of the stage, the ability of live performance to move hearts, tell a story, and change the world.

I am speaking, of course, of Hamiliton (FB), the Broadway blockbuster with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) (based on the book by Ron Chernow (FB)) that just arrived in Los Angeles, officially opening on Wednesday, August 16, with previews starting August 11. We were at the second preview last night at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), thankful for our season tickets that enabled us to see the show for a mere $46, when people are paying multiple hundreds and thousands of dollars for a seat (although the people sitting next to us paid only $10 thanks to the Hamilton Lottery). There is a reason to buy season tickets sometimes. There is a reason that one has to sit through The Bodyguard sometimes.

So does Hamilton live up to the hype? Is it the musical of this generation? We have to agree with Charles McNulty of the LA Times: Yes. Although there are some flaws, it speaks to an audience the way no other musical has since perhaps Rent. It energizes people not only about America but about the theatre. It is, at its heart, theatrical. It is something that hopefully will live on in its execution and its message. It will hopefully energize a younger generation on that unique American form that is the “Broadway Musical”, and it has already sparked / continued a move of popular composers back to the theatrical stage — and both popular and “Broadway” music will be the better for it. It already is.

I’m not sure I need to tell you the actual story of Hamilton. By now, you’ve likely listened to the album. You know it is the story of an immigrant that created the modern financial system. It is the story of a man that rose from nothing to be a Founding Father, but one whose imperfections ultimately brought him down. It is a demonstration that our founding wasn’t easy. It is the story of founders such as Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. It is not the story of John Adams or Benjamin Franklin — they already have their own musicals. It is the story of Alexander Hamilton. You still want the synopsis. Read Wikipedia.

The musical presents incredible performance. It has incredible choreography. It has an incredible ensemble (it is worth seeing a second time if only to focus on watching the ensemble as opposed to the principals). McNulty opines that it has a flawed book: “I have quibbles with the book, which suffers a few minor dips in its retreading of Alexander Hamilton’s revolutionary life story. And I’ve questioned the relative gentleness of Miranda’s take on Hamilton’s complicated economic legacy and the founding fathers’ personal relationship to slavery. “Hamilton” could probably have done more to connect the framers’ partisan squabbles with our own.” I, on the other hand, see the flaws of Hamilton in a more technical fashion. For a show to become a show of the ages, it must be reproducible for the masses. We know of West Side Story and Hair and Rent because they have been performed on stages from the amateur to the professional. On the other hand, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark? Yeah, a tour is promised, but we’re not going to see it in high schools? Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which we saw last week, may not do well on the intimate or regional stage just because of the technical demands. I’m unsure if whether the double-turntable staging of Hamilton will be possible on the high school, intimate, or regional stage. Will Hamilton move from the Broadway and Touring stage to the stages of the heartland of America? I’m not sure we know that yet. Some past blockbusters — Producers, Spamalot, and Rent have. Others haven’t. Et tu, Wicked?

But that just makes it more imperative that you go see Hamilton while you can. If you miss it this go around — either due to schedule, cost, or bad luck in the lottery — I can guarantee you that it will be back. This will be another Wicked, reappearing every few years to empty pocketbooks and win hearts — and everyone should see it at least once. Director Thomas Kail and Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler  have crafted an remarkable “whole”: a harmonization of the leads and the ensemble that tell a story in a way that hasn’t really been done on the stage before, except, perhaps, In The Heights (which was from the same team). This is worth seeing, and seeing again.

Describing the performance — in a review sense — is difficult. Gone are the days LA Civic Light Opera days where Los Angeles got the original Broadway cast. We have a cast trained on Broadway, but we don’t have Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) or Phillipa Soo. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. All of the leads are spectacular, demonstrating that this not a star dependent show. Just like some of the greatest television shows, the strength of this show is its its entire cast, the synthesis of talent and performance and energy that makes all it difficult to separate performances, for all are great — from Hamilton, Burr, and the other leads to the nameless background dancer.

Our top protagonists are Michael Luwoye (FB) as Alexander Hamilton and Joshua Henry (FB) as Aaron Burr. Luwoye brings a different intensity and style to Hamilton (at least audibly, as I only know Miranda’s performance from the album), but it is one that works well. Henry is just spectacular in his intensity as Burr. The two men — perhaps one of the most famous frenemies duos — have a great chemistry together on stage, and work well in the roles.

The Schuyler Sisters are the most prominent female roles in the story — Emmy Raver-Lampman (FB) as Angelica, Solea Pfeiffer (FB) as Eliza, and Amber Iman (FB★, FB) as both Peggy and Hamilton’s later lover, Maria Reynolds. They have perhaps some of the most complicated vocal harmonies and blendings in the score, and they handle them well. Each brings a unique look and style to the role, and provide both a touching softness and strength to the leads. They are a joy to watch.

The revolutionary team of compadres that form around Hamilton — Jordan Donica (FB) as Marquis de Lafayette, Mathenee Treco (FB) as Hercules Mulligan, and Rubén J. Carbajal (FB) as John Laurens — capture the headstrong nature of youth well. They reappear in the second act — Donica as Jefferson, Treco as Madison, and Carbajal as Hamilton’s son, Phillip. It is here where Donica shines as the effusive dandy Jefferson, primping and preening as he contrasts and battles with Hamilton. Treco’s Madison is a lot quieter, behind the scenes as Jefferson’s right-hand man. Carbajal — a local boy, having done In The Heights at the Chance Theatre (FB) — has some wonderful scenes as Phillip — especially in his duel.

Rory O’Malley (FB★, FB)’s King George is a spectacular dandy — someone whose “da da da da” refrain will stick in your head. He tends to appear on-stage by himself, in a world of his own — capturing the separation of King George from his subjects well. As a side note: When O’Malley as the King sang of John Adams, I noted that Adams does not appear at all in this show. Why? Because he’s the center of his own show and story, someone else tells his story. Similarly, Ben Franklin has no voice at all in this show (referenced in just one song); again, he’s not only in Adams’ show, but has his own show as well. Hamilton focuses on the founding fathers whose stories haven’t been told.

The other main founding father presented in the show is George Washington, portrayed by Isaiah Johnson (FB). Looking nothing like the be-wigged father on the postage stamps, he does a great job of leadership and mentorship in his portrayl.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble are (other named characters as noted): Raymond Baynard (FB) [also George Eacker], Dan Belnavis (FB), Daniel Ching (FB) [also Charles Lee], Jeffery Duffy (FB), Jennifer Geller (FB), Afra Hines (FB★, FB), Sabrina Imamura (FB), Lauren Kias (FB), Raven Thomas (FB), Ryan Vasquez (FB) [also Philip Schuyler, James Reynolds, and Doctor], and Andrew Wojtal (FB) [also Samuel Seabury] . This ensemble is spectacular: in constant motion, as wonderful background characters, as strong dancers, and people floating in and out. As you can, focus your attention and watch them closely, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

I’m not going to detail who understudies who, but there are a fair number of standbys [SB], swings [SW], and universal swings [USW]: Ryan Alvarado (FB) [SB], Julia K. Harriman (FB★, FB) [SB], Josh Andrés Rivera (FB) [SB], Amanda Braun (FB) [SW], Karli Dinardo (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Jacob Guzman (FB) [SW, Dance Captain], Alex Larson (FB) [SW], Yvette Lu (FB) [SW], Desmond Newson (FB) [SW], Desmond Nunn (FB) [SW], Keenan D. Washington (FB) [SW], Hope Endrenyi (FB) [USW], Eliza Ohman (FB★, FB) [USW], Antuan Magic Raimone (FB) [USW], and Willie Smith III [USW].

The music in the show was sharp and clear, with the Hamilton Orchestra conducted by Julian Reeve (FB) [also Keyboard 1] and Andre Cerullo (FB) [also Keyboard 2]. The other orchestra members were: John Mader (FB) [Drums]; Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Adriana Zoppo (FB) [Concertmaster]; Jody Rubin (FB) [Viola / Violin]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Trey Henry (FB) [Bass / Electric Bass / Key Bass]; Paul Viapiano (FB) [Electric Guitar / Acoustic Guitar / Banjo];, and Wade Culbreath [Percussion / Keyboards]. Other music related credits: Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]; Randy Cohen (FB) [Synthesizer and Drum Programmer]; Matt Gallagher [Universal Music Associate]. Larger creative music credits: Alex Lacamoire (FB) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB) [Arrangements]; Michael Keller (FB) and Michael Aarons (FB) [Music Coordinators]; Julian Reeve (FB) [Music Director]; Alex Lacamoire (FB) [Music Supervision and Orchestrations].

Finally, turning to the creative and production credits. The scenic design by David Korins (FB) was spectacular: a large brick background with scaffolding that some how transports well, including a deck with a double turntable. This was augmented by Howell Binkley (FB)’s lighting design, which not only impacted the actors but the back of the scenic designed, and used a type of LED mover I hadn’t seen before. Nevin Steinberg (FB)‘s sound design, as noted before, was quite clear; I noted they added additional speakers to improve the sound in the mezzanine and balcony of the Pantages. The costume design of Paul Tazewell and the hair and wig design of the very busy Charles G. LaPointe worked well for the movement and dance, and to establish the nature of the characters. Rounding out the production credits: J. Philip Bassett [Production Supervisor]; Hudson Theatrical Associates [Technical Supervision]; Kimberly Fisk (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Telsey & Company (FB) and Bethany Knox CSA (FB) [Casting]; Roeya Banuazizi [Company Manager]; Patrick Vassel (FB) [Associate and Supervising Director]; Stephanie Klemons (FB★, FB) [Associate and Supervising Choreographer]; Derek Mitchell (FB) [Resident Choreographer].

Hamiliton (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through December 30th. Tickets might be available through the Pantages website, but they might be expensive. Orchestra tickets start at $650, and resale prices vary widely. There is a $10 ticket lottery: either through the Hamilton App, or through the Hamilton Lottery Website. If you like the voice of Aaron Burr, Joshua Henry (FB), you might also look into the final production of the Muse/ique (FB) 2017 “Summer of Sound”: Glow/Town, on August 26,  featuring Savion Glover (FB) and, from the Hamilton tour, Joshua Henry (FB). Tickets are available from the Muse/ique website; discount tickets may be available from Goldstar. I find the Festival Seating just fine: general admission tables and chairs to see the show, and you bring your own picnic to enjoy. A perfect summer evening. Summer events take on the lawn in front of the Beckmann Auditorium at CalTech in Pasadena.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (well, make that 5 Stars Theatricals (FB)), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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