God, I Hate Shakespeare … and WordPress | “Something Rotten” @ Ahmanson

Something Rotten (Ahmanson)Sometimes, second tries are better. Hopefully, that will be true for this writeup, because after four hours, when I went to post the first version of this writeup, WordPress not only ate it with an unknown error, but conveniently hadn’t been saving a backup. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m writing this with a headache I didn’t have the first time. [Update: I discovered Monday morning that the original review did post, only with a date of November 21, 2016 — because it also crossposted to DW! I’ve fixed the date, so now there are two copies of the review. Are they different? You’ll have to read them to find out.]

However, sometimes first attempts are great. Witness the show now at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). It is from two new writers for Broadway, Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) and John O’Farrell (although both have extensive writing experience). It is from a first-time Broadway song-writing team, brothers Wayne Kirkpatrick (FB) and the aforementioned Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) — although both have extensive experience on the pop music side. Lastly, it is based on a new (i.e., first-time) idea from those brothers.

This could have had the makings of a total disaster. After all, two brothers, writing a show for a medium they’ve never worked in, with a totally new idea. What could go wrong? Hold that idea for the synopsis.

So what was their idea? After all, some shows have very simple ideas at their heart. Gang warfare. A matchmaker. Stealing a loaf of bread. A litterbox. A breakfast food. At the heart of this show — it’s genesis — is the idea: “What if Shakespeare had been the rock star of his age, with all the ego that comes therewith?”

And that, friends, it the plot of Something Rotten. Can I go home now? I feel like I’ve done this before.

OK, so that’s not all their is to Something Rotten. There is also a lot of satire of shows that have been previously on Broadway. This creates an interesting coincidence. Last week, we saw another show that poked fun at Broadway shows, Spamilton. Two consecutive shows that have a common thematic element. That also happened the last time we were at the Ahmanson: Both Bright Star and Mice! share a common thematic elements. The third time, however, won’t be the charm. I’m at a loss to think of a single common thematic element between Soft Power and either School of Rock or Violet. But who knows….

So what is the story of Something Rotten? Imagine it is the Renaissance — you know, what you see at your local RenFaire. Shakespeare is at the top of his game and is the equivalent of a rock star. The rest of the writers in town? Well, they’re just a renfaire show compared to him. But two brothers continue to try to best him: Nick and Nigel Bottom. Shakespeare once was a part of their troupe, until they fired him for having no talent as an actor — they told him to try writing. A big mistake. Since then, he’s been rising and they are having trouble paying the bills (as his wife Bea, who will do anything to help him, continues to remind him). Nick is the outward face and the main writer; Nigel is a poet at heart. Knowing they must find the next big thing to beat Shakespeare, Nick visits a soothsayer. The prediction: Musicals. At this point, Nick decides to write a musical, using Nigel’s lyric sonnets as lyrics. They start with a first attempt, but their topic just doesn’t sell — a musical about the Black Plague. Nick decides he just needs to know what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be? He visits the soothsayer again, and the answer is:  Well, it looks like something called Omlette. There are also visions of Ham and Danish, along with snippets of plots and loads of other musical ideas. So off Nick goes to write a musical about breakfast foods. He even allows the Jewish financier, Shylock, to invest.

You can see where this is going, right?

Complicating the plot are the Puritans. They really know how to destroy the mood.  In this case, the daughter of Brother Jeremiah, Portia, has fallen in love with Nigel’s poems — and thus with Nigel. But Nigel is a man of the theatre, where men dressed as women kiss other men, and they are bringing in song and dance. He forbids the relationship, and we all know what happens with forbidden relationships in Elizabethan times.

I think you can take it from there.

The humor in this show is very broad, and there are loads of sexual jokes and double entendres. If you’ve ever been at a renfaire, you know that fits right in. There are loads of references to other Broadway shows, either by word or sight gag. If those are your tastes in humor, you will love this. They are, and I did. I found this an extremely funny show — perhaps not as funny as Spamilton, but very very close. I also enjoyed the music quite a bit. Ever since the Tony Awards showcased “A Musical”,  I’ve loved that song, and other songs such as “Right Hand Man”,  “Welcome to the Renaissance”, and “Make an Omlette” are equal earworms. So this show had broad humor and great music. It’s not very deep, but when you go to see a musical, who wants to see something dark and dreary. Well, except for Les Miserables.

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw understands broad humor, given his background with Drowsy ChaperoneBook of Mormon, and Spamalot. He works with the performance team to bring the humor out to the audience, playing it broad and including the timing for the laughs. He fills the dances with energy as if they were something new, and cleverly plays with and on the conventions being parodied. It works well and is quite enjoyable.

So should you see this for the story? Yes, you’ll have lots of fun, and find it well worth the price (which will be substantially less than you’ll pay for that show on Hollywood Boulevard — and that’s no joke). But the story isn’t all — there are great performances in addition.

In the top positions are Rob McClure (FB) as Nick Bottom and Josh Grisetti (FB) as Nigel Bottom.  McClure’s Nick is in many senses a classic straight man — he isn’t in on the joke of what is going on around him, and in that, he’s hilarous. He plays that aspects quite well, which combined with strong singing and dancing make him a joy to watch. I’ve heard him before but never quite connected the voice to the performance (in both Honeymoon in Vegas and Chaplin), and I’ve likely seen him in the Avenue Q tour, but his performance here makes me want to follow his career a bit more. Just watch him in numbers like “God, I Hate Shakespeare”, “A Musical”, “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top” or “Make an Omlette”. He also has great chemistry with his on-stage wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis (FB)), which comes across wonderfully during their shared “Right Hand Man”. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as his on-stage wife is his off-stage wife of 12 years — they met in the cast of Grease. That certainly must make touring easier.

I haven’t forgotten about Nick’s on-stage brother, Nigel. Of the two, Nigel is more the poet of the two, and has less of the physical and dance humor. He does get a cute girl, tho…. Grisetti handles NIgel’s character well, capturing the poetic side of him and the adultation of Shakespeare (which his brother hates). He also has a very nice singing voice which is shown in his numbers with his love interest, Portia, played by Autumn Hurlbert (FB): “I Love the Way” and “We See the Light”. He also demonstrates it in his number “To Thine Own Self”.

Of course, how can we forget the rock star bard, Will Shakespeare, played by Adam Pascal (FB). Pascal captures the character well, perhaps from his actual rock star experience, both from his lead roles in both Rent and Aida, as well as his rock credentials. It is clear he is having fun with this role and is conveying that to the audience. Watch him in “Will Power” and “Hard to Be The Bard” and you’ll see what I mean.

Moving to the remainder of the named characters, the next two main ones are Nostradamus, played by Blake Hammond (FB), and Shylock, played by Jeff Brooks (FB). Hammond’s Nostradamus is a hoot, from the first time we see him just before “A Musical”. He sings well, dances well, and most importantly, plays the humor well while having a load of fun. Just a joy to watch. I also enjoyed Brooks’ Shylock. A much smaller role, but I have to love a MOT in a role that highlights what it was like for Jews during those times (something conveniently omitted from your local RenFaire). He does great in “To Thine Own Self”.

The remaining named role is Scott Cote (FB)’s Brother Jeremiah, head of the Puritans and father of the aforementioned Portia. Cote gets some of the best double entendre lines in the show, and he says them with a great straight face and the occasional double-take. He is also great in the “We See The Light” number.

This then brings us to the ensemble and the smaller named roles. Two things I would like to highlight about the ensemble: (1) Nick Rashad Burroughs (FB) [Minstrel, Snug, Chef Trio] was wonderful as the MInstrel who opens each acts; (2) the ensemble seemed to be having loads of fun with this show. I watch a show both with and without binoculars, and it was fun just watching the faces of the ensemble as they were performing and just having fun. That fun is infectious and carries to the audience. The ensemble, in addition to Burroughs,  consisted of (additional named roles and understudy (u/s) noted): Lucy Anders (FB) [Portiau/s]; Kyle Nicholas Anderson (FB) [Tom Snout, Chef TrioNigel Bottomu/s]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [Yorick, Shakespeare’s Valet, Will Power Backup BoyShakespeareu/s]; Mandie Black (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Pierce Cassedy (FB) [RobinNigel Bottomu/s]; Drew Franklin [Will Power Backup Boy]; Ralph Meitzler (FB) [Will Power Backup BoyShakespeareu/s]; Patrick John Moran (FB) [Francis Flute, Master of the JusticeNostradamusu/s, Brother Jeremiahu/s, Shylocku/s]; Joel Newsome (FB) [Lord Clapham, Eyepatch ManNostradamusu/s, Brother Jeremiahu/s, Shylocku/s]; Con O’Shea-Creal (FB) [Peter QuinceWill Power Backup BoyChef TrioNick Bottomu/s]; Kaylin Seckel (FB) [Beau/s]; Sarah Quinn Taylor (FB); Tonya Thompson (FB); and Emily Trumble (FB) [Beau/s].

The following folks were in the cast as backup swings: Kate Bailey (FB) [Portiau/s]; Brandon Bieber (FB[Dance Captain]; Ian Campayno (FB); and Cameron Hobbs (FB). I’ll note there’s a clear reason Bieber is the dance captain — he’s got loads of asst. choreographer credits under his belt.

Turning to the music, without which the songs and the dances would …. look funny. Brian P. Kennedy (FB)  was the Music Director and Conductor, with Music Supervision and Vocal Arrangements by Phil Reno, music arrangements by Glen Kelley, orchestrations by Larry Hochman (FB), and music coordination by John Miller (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Brian P. Kennedy (FB) [Conductor / Keyboard1]; William Shaffer [Assoc. Conductor / Keyboard2]; Cameron Rasmussen (FB) [Guitar1]; Brad Flickinger [Drums / Percussion], Sal Lozano  [Reed1]; Rob Schaer [Trumpet];  Robert Payne [Trombone / Contractor]; Jen Choi Fischer (FB) [Violin]; Justin Lees-Smith (FB) [Guitar2];  Alby Potts (FB) [Keyboard3]; Ken Wild (FB) [Bass]; John Sawolski (FB) [Keyboard2 Sub]. Music Copying was by  Emily Grishman, who was joined by Katharine Edmonds  for Music Preparation.

Finally, turning to the production and creative team. The scenic design was by Scott Pask, who creates a reasonably flexable approach using backdrops and lighting; it looked flexible enough to allow this to be easily adapted for the high-school and regional crowd — ensuring a long life. The sound and lighting design was by Peter Hylenski (FB) [Sound] and Jeff Croiter (FB) [Lighting]. Costume Design was by Gregg Barnes (FB), who created a look that was a bit fancier than RenFaire, but probably fit what people were expecting. Josh Marquette (FB)’s Hair Design was great at the design level, but there was an execution problem — with the binoculars, the hair-net of the wig was a clearly visible line on the forehead, and that’s not great for suspension of disbelief. Rounding out the production credits were: Jeff Norman [Production Stage Manager]; Matt Schreiber [Stage Manager]; Brae Singleton (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Steve Bebout (FB) [Assoc. Director]; Eric Giancola (FB) [Assoc. Choreographer]; Telsey + Company (FB) [Casting]; Jim Harrison [Company Manager]Port City Technical (FB) [Production Management].

Something Rotten continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through December 31. Tickets are available through the CTG Website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. The show has broad humor, great singing, great dancing, and loads of references to other shows. Who could ask for anything more … oh, right, never mind that line. Still, it is a wonderful show and you’ll have a great time.

But don’t leave just yet. Twice a year Broadway turns to us, its captive audience, to demand ransom (uh) request our support for Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (FB), an organization that — all joking aside — does some remarkable work. We go to enough theatre that we always seem to catch the BCEFA appeal, and we always give something. You should too, by clicking here. Alas, no one donated enough at our performance so that this happened.

While this season is troubled for the Ahmanson with the postponement of the next show, the next season is looking great. In addition to the previously announced 👍 Dear Evan Hansen, CTG has announced three more shows: 👍 Falsettos, 👍 Come From Away, and 👍 The Play That Goes Wrong.  Depending on what the last two shows are, this might entice me to subscribe.

***

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:

November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (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 (FB). 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 — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). 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! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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God, I Hate Shakespeare | “Something Rotten” @ Ahmanson

Something Rotten (Ahmanson)[This is the post that I thought was lost. Instead, it crossposted to Dreamwidth, but with a date in 2016! I corrected the date, so now there are two copies of the review. Are they different? You’ll need to read them to find out.]

Most musicals start with a simple premise, idea, or property. I’m sure your familiar with this. A musical swinder. A gang fight, A matchmaker. Breakfast foods. You get the idea. The show we saw last night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Something Rotten, was such a show. The premise? What if Shakespeare had been the stuck-up rock star of his generation?

The rest of the theme then follows quickly: What about the other “rock stars” of that era — the other writers? How did they get visibility when outshone by Shakespeare’s sun? How would they achieve the level of fame and fortune? Add in a bit of referential humor, and you basically have the plot of Something Rotten.

That referential humor, by the way, creates quite a interesting coincidence. When we were last at the Ahmanson back in October, we saw the musical Bright Star. The next day I saw a play that had echoes of the same thing – Mice. Last week, we saw Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas. It was a musical that was chock full of references to other musicals in addition to their main target of parody. Last night’s Something Rotten? Same thing. Most of the sequences involving the soothsayer were filled with references to other musicals, starting with “A Musical” (which you might remember from the Tony Broadcast) and exploding in the “Make an Omlette” scene. So, both recent visits to the Ahmanson have been sequential with related shows. That trend probably won’t last: Soft Power is sandwiched between School of Rock and Violet.

As I alluded too earlier, the plot of Something Rotten revolves around Shakespeare. Specifically, it is the story of the Bottom Brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are competing playwrights to Shakespeare. He used to be part of their acting troupe, but was fired because he was a bad actor (and he was told to become a writer). Shakespeare’s star keeps rising, and the Bottom Brothers keep failing. In an attempt to find the next big thing, Nick Bottom consults a soothsayer who says it will be … Musicals. Nick is eventually convinced and starts writing, using his brother’s poetry as lyrics. But the subjects just don’t work out, and so he visits the soothsayer again to learn what Shakespeare’s next big hit will be? The answer? Omlette, and perhaps something to do with Ham and Danish. Nick starts running and won’t be deterred, even when his brother falls in love with a Puritan’s daughter, and writes perhaps the best play he’s ever written. You can guess a bit as to what happens then: Shakespeare steals the good play and Omlette fails … and we deal with the aftermath. What? You didn’t want that spoiler? Well, Romeo and Julia both die as well.

Along the way, we meet some various other characters: Bea, Nick Bottom’s long suffering wife that just wants to help him succeed in any way she can; Portia, the aforementioned Puritan’s daughter who falls in love with Nigel’s words; Shylock, the Jewish financier who just wants to be a producer (answering the question of why you see so few Jewish folks at RenFaire); and the Puritans headed by Brother Jeremiah, who believe that theatre is a sin — especially those men dressed as women kissing men — and that music in theatre is just heresy and an abomination. Puritans really know how to screw up anything that’s fun. Give them an inch, and next thing you know, they’ll screw up the ideals of that new world we just discovered.

In general, the show is a delightful silly romp — made even more fun by all the interpolated show references. First time theatre writers Karey Kirkpatrick (FB) and John O’Farrell have crafted a hilarious story that allows you to forget the cares and troubles of the outside world for two and a half hours, and that’s sorely needed now. Kirkpatrick (FB) and his brother Wayne (FB, ★FB) — first time Broadway musical writers — also crafted some fun music for the show with some songs that have rapidly become favorites — in particular, “A Musical”, “Right Hand Man”, and the opener “Welcome to the Renaissance”. Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw then infused the stage expression with energy and the right level of self-referential camp to make it all work.

That’s two stellar CTG shows in a row.

It also helps that the performances are great as well. In the top position — sorry, Will — are Rob McClure (FB) as Nick Bottom and Josh Grisetti (FB) as Nigel Bottom. Rob McClure is someone I never realized I liked as much as I do. Perhaps I should explain. I’m actually a fan of the music of Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas,  which flopped on Broadway but starred McClure. I also enjoyed listening to McClure’s work in Chaplin. But I had never seen him in person. Not only did he sing well, but he handled the humor and dance well, making this an enjoyable production. He also has great chemistry with his on-stage wife Bea, played by his wife-in-real-life, Maggie Lakis (FB). This real-life chemistry adds to the stage chemistry in songs such as “Right Hand Man”, which they both nail. But even in other numbers, such as my fav “A Musical” or “I Hat Shakespeare” or “Make an Omelette”, he is just spectacular. Turning back to Grisetti’s Nigel Bottom: This is the less comic, more romantic character who is the poet, who handles the humor, singing, dancing, and performance very well.  He is also quite strong, especially in his scenes with his love interest, Portia, played by his not-wife-in-real-life Autumn Hurlbert (FB). The duet with the two in “I Love the Way” and “We See The Light” is just great, but Grisetti does well by himself in “To Thine Own Self” (and the scene surrounding it).

Then there’s Shakespeare. What more be said. But seriously, Adam Pascal (★FB)’s portrayal of the bard has the right rock-star edge in it because Pascal has experience playing rock-star like characters from both Rent and Aida. He has experience with the rock style of music, and handles both the music and the swagger well. P.S.: This was a BCEFA weekend, and evidently two nights ago someone donated $1K, resulting in this.

I’ve already touched upon the two major second tier characters — the love interests Bea and Portia. Both gave wonderful performances, and I’ve already mentioned their singing. Alas, this show was not written with large roles for women that would showcase them even more. Also standing out on this tier were Blake Hammond (FB)’s Nostradamus and Jeff Brooks (FB)’s Shylock. We first see Hammond in the showstopper “A Musical” where he leads the action, and then he reappears in songs like “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top” and “To Thine Own Self”. He handles not only the singing and the dancing, but the comedy side of the performance as well, as is just fun to watch. Brooks’ Shylock has a smaller role, but the nature of the character and the point that he is making appeals to me.

The last significant named character is Scott Cote (FB)’s Brother Jeremiah, who plays Portia’s Puritan father. A fun performance, especially in his comic interactions (not sung, but — for example — at the end of the Black Death scene) and in “We See the Light”.

Rounding out the on-stage cast were the members of the ensemble. It is harder to single out performances here, as the audience does not have an easy way of putting names with faces. I would, however, like to highlight Nick Rashad Burroughs (FB), who opens the show and Act II as the Minstrel, and who has a remarkable singing voice. In general, the ensemble does a fantastic job. I enjoy occasionally pulling out the binoculars and watching the faces of the ensemble, and these folks were clearly having a lot of fun, and that comes across to the audience. The ensemble consisted of the following folks (additional roles beyond the ensemble are noted): Lucy Anders (FB) [u/s Portia]; Kyle Nicholas Anderson (FB) [u/s Nigel Bottom]; Daniel Beeman (FB) [u/s Shakespeare]; Mandie Black (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Pierce Cassedy (FB) [u/s Nigel Bottom]; Drew Franklin; Ralph Meitzler (FB) [u/s Shakespeare]; Patrick John Moran (FB) [u/s Nostradamus]; Joel Newsome (FB) [Lord Clapham; U/s Nostradamus, Brother Jeremiah, Shylock]; Con O’Shea-Creal (FB) [u/s Nick Bottom]; Kaylin Seckel (FB) [u/s Bea]; Sarah Quinn Taylor (FB); Tonya Thompson (FB) and Emily Trumble (FB) [u/s Bea].

The Off-stage cast (i.e., swings) were: Kate Bailey (FB) [u/s Portia]; Brandon Bieber (FB) [Dance Captain]; Ian Campayno (FB); and Cameron Hobbs (FB). Looking up the websites for this writeup, I can see why Bieber was Dance Captain — he has a hella lot of Assistant Choreographer experiences.

My periodic note to actors regarding my searching for their websites: I encourage you to get yourself websites — this provides a good stable place to put your credits and contact information. If you have such a site, remember to pay the domain name fees and keep it current. If you don’t have a site, the next best are sites like www.abouttheartists.com, Backstage, and other of those ilk with your resume. My last link of choice is Broadway World, Broadway.Com, or Playbill, because those only list Broadway credits, not the regional stuff you’ve been in.

Turning to the music side of things: Larry Hochman (FB) did the Orchestrations, with Music Arrangement by Glen Kelly (FB).  John Miller (FB) was the Music Coordinator. The orchestra was conducted by Brian P. Kennedy (FB), who also was first Keyboard. Others in the orchestra were: William Shaffer (FB) [Associate Conductor; 2nd Keyboard]; Cameron Rasmussen (FB) [Guitar]; Brad Flickinger  [Drums/Percussion]; Sal Lozano [1st Reed]; Rob Schear [Trumpet]; Robert Payne [Trombone, Contractor]; Jen Choi Fischer [Violin]; Justin Lees-Smith (FB) [2nd Guitar]; Alby Potts (FB) [3rd Keyboard]; Ken Wild (FB) [Bass]; John Sawolski (FB) [2nd Keyboard Sub]. Emily Grishman did the music copying, and was joined by Katharine Edmonds in doing the music preparation. Phil Reno was the music supervisor and did the vocal arrangements.

Finally, we come to the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design was by Scott Pask, and worked reasonably well. In particular, I noted that it is something that might be doable by high schools, so this show might have a good long life. The sound design was by Peter Hylenski (FB), with Jeff Croiter (FB) doing the lighting design.  Both did what they were suppose to do: create the mood clearly, while otherwise being unobtrusive. Gregg Barnes (FB) did the Costume Design, and Josh Marquette (FB) did the hair design. The costumes worked well, although they seemed a bit more stereotypical than the costumes I see at the RenFaire, so someone’s got their history wrong. The hair — specifically the wigs — were more problematic. Note the quality of the hair itself, but watching the show with binoculars I was clearly able to see the net wig lines on foreheads — and that hurt the illusion. The fact that it is a wig must be invisible. Other production credits: Jeff Norman (FB) – Production Stage Manager, Matt Schreiber (FB) – Stage Manager, Brae Singleton (FB) – Assistant Stage Manager; Steve Bebout (FB) – Associate Director; Eric Giancola (FB) – Associate Choreographer; Telsey + Company (FB) – Casting; Jim Harrison (FB) – Company Manager; Port City Technical (FB) – Production Management.

Twice a year, the Broadway community raises funds for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. We always seem to catch one of these fund raising performances, and this weekend was no exception. We donated. Now it’s your turn.

Something Rotten continues at the Ahmanson through December 31. You can get tickets through the Ahmanson Website. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar. This is a very funny and entertaining show; go see it.

The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) has announcement more of its 2018-2019 Season. In addition to the previously announced 👍 Dear Even Hansen, the Ahmanson has announced three more shows👍 Come From Away; 👍 Falsettos; and 👍 The Play That Goes Wrong. This is shaping up as a season worthy of subscription — I just need to learn what the remaining two shows are. Knowing the Ahmanson, one will likely be a pre-Broadway musical.

***

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:

November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (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 (FB). 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 — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). 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! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Too Many Words | “Spamilton” at Kirk Douglas

Spamilton (Kirk Douglas)First and foremost, my apologies in the delay in posting this. I’ve just been slammed this week in the evenings, combined with a migraine cycle.

Shortly after the Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced that it was bringing in the Hamilton juggernaut, the Center Theatre Group (FB) was faced with a dillemma: how to counterprogram? Their answer was to jump on the bandwagon with Spamilton.

Spamilton is a parody musical that sprung from the creative mind of Gerard Alessandrini (FB), creator of the long running spoof series, Forbidden Broadway. The Forbidden series has been long known to skewer current and past Broadway shows, and Spamilton could well have been titled Forbidden Hamilton — for that’s what it is: taking all of the hot air out of the musical theatre over-inflated Hamilton while simultaneously showing its love for the show. Along the way, it skewers other present and past Broadway shows.

Miraculously, I had not had the opportunity to obtain the Spamilton cast album before the show, and I hadn’t heard the songs. I recommend you do this as well so that the humor is fresh. Overall, I found the show hilarious — one of the funniest I’d seen in a while. But then again, I got about 98% of the jokes because I’m familiar with the shows and conventions skewered. If you’re less familiar with theatre and Hamilton, you might not get it all.

The reference to “Too Many Words” refers to the target of this parody: not Hamilton but it’s author, Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB). They comment on how many words Lin crams into a song and a lyric, his forced rhyming styles, his comparison to heroes like Sondheim and past shows. They highlight rap and hip-hop from previous Broadway shows (which wasn’t called hip-hop them, but was still highly patterned rhythmic rhyming). Over the bulk of the 90-so minutes, what one comes away with a sense of is their love of what Lin created. After all, you don’t see them making fun of High Fidelity, do you (and I happen to like that show).

With respect to Lin himself, Alessandrini gets it mostly right. He identifies Lin’s major works, of course: In The Heights and Hamilton, as well as his work with Disney. But he misses the opportunity the other recent show that Lin had a hand in — and that started here in Los Angeles: Bring It On The Musical. As least to me (perhaps because I recently listened to the Broadway Backstory on the show), it was a big omission.

Along with poking fun at Lin, Spamilton pokes fun at what Hamilton has become: a steamroller with overpriced seats, for which all are clamoring for tickets, and how the song and story entered the cultural vernacular (how often have you seen “in the room where it happens” or “tell your story”?) It also examines, albeit briefly, other recent Broadway shows of varying depth and quality, together with a number of past shows. For example, there is a reference to The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but I’m not sure who other than theatre nerds will get the joke. Molly Brown hasn’t had a revival since the early sixties when it opened. There also was the required reference to Barbra Streisand, although thankfully there is none of the usual references to Mary Martin or Carol Channing (although there is a Dolly reference).

Unfortunately, the delay between writing this up and seeing the show (we saw it Sunday evening — the start of the headache cycle) means that some of the best jokes have faded from memory. This is why I now plan to get the cast album. What hasn’t changed is the memory that this is one of the few shows that had me really laughing during the show; my wife noted that she hadn’t wanted to see a show that night, but she really enjoyed it. That said something about how the humor of this parody hit the two of us — probably a representative sample of those who see too much theatre. It was able to cut through the trite and find the body, and then to parody and skewer that body in a truly hilarious way.

I do recall that the production was jam-packed and non-stop, moving from parody to parody with nary a moment to catch your breath. Uhh, just like that other show over on Hollywood Blvd.

Gerard Alessandrini (FB) directed his ensemble well, enabling them to move from characterization to characterization smoothly and to have fun with the material and the audience. The ensemble itself — Dedrick A. Bonner (FB), John Devereaux (FB), WIlkie Ferguson III (FB), William Cooper Howell (FB), and Zakiya Young (FB) keeps switching roles, but primarily play the actors behind the characters in Hamilton. But they have loads of non-Hamilton characters as well, and if there is anything that can be said about the ensemble, it is that they pull this off with talent, aplomb, and a lot of pluck. Given the constantly switching characters, it is hard to single anyone out — they are all that good.

Added to the Ensemble for a specialty number or two are Glenn Bassett (FB) and Susanne Blakeslee (FB). Bassett primarily comes on as King George, but Blakeslee is  more broadly credited as “Diva”, taking on a number of, well, white actresses: Glen Close, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and so forth.

The understudies for the show are Becca Brown (FB) and Elijah Reyes (FB).

Working up this writeup on the cast (and thus searching for their bios), what strikes me is how “LA” this cast is, unlike most CTG / Ahmanson shows. This production is really an LA-incarnation of Spamilton with actors grounded in or originating from LA, unlike the New York visitors we often get. That’s a refreshing and good thing to see, CTG.

The show was choreographed by Gerry McIntyre (FB), who made the movement seamless while still remaining very Hamilton-like.

Music for the show it provided by an on-stage piano, which is not explicitly credited in the program, but which I’m assuming was being tickled by Music Director James Lent (FB). Music supervision and arrangements were by Fred Barton (FB), with additional arrangements by Richard Danley (FB). Gerard Alessandrini (FB) presumably wrote the lyrics as he is credited as the writer of the show, and there is no separate “music and lyrics” credit; he also likely adapted the songs as necessary.

Production-wise, things are … simple. There’s no credit for scenic design because there really is none — there is just a poster of Spamilton that the actors can disappear behind. Everything else is done with props, which is why Glenn Bassett (FB) is also credited with being set and prop consultant. Much more important to setting the scene in this show is the costume design work of Dustin Cross (FB). I can’t vouch for accuracy with the shows they parody, but the costumes evoke enough similarity to identify the shows and that is what matters. They are also flexible enough to accommodate the large variety of characters portrayed by each actor. They were also all made by the CTG costume shop; these are not tour costumes. All of this is supported by the lighting design of Karyn D. Lawrence (FB) and the sound design of Adam Phalen (FB) [although, alas, the latter was marred in execution by a large amount of microphone static at our performance]. Other production credits: Andrew Lynford, CSA – Casting; Lindsay Allbaugh (FB) – Associate Producer; Brooke Baldwin (FB) – Production Stage Manager; and Maggie Swing (FB) – Stage Manager.

Note that, although this is a local production, it is also the start of a tour.

Although Spamilton in New York is closingSpamilton in Los Angeles has extended to January 7, so disregard what is on my graphic. Tickets are available through the CTG websiteSpamilton is on Goldstar, but is sold out. TIckets don’t appear to be available on TodayTix. So, although they are less expensive, Spamilton tickets are harder to get. It is well worth seeing.

***

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:

Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and  Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (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 (FB). 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 — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.

Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). 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! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.

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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Finding Inner Strength | “The Curious Incident” @ Ahmanson

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Ahmanson)A little over 10 years ago, I picked up a fascinating book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (FB). The book told the story of a murder mystery — a dog that had been found in a neighbor’s front yard, killed by a pitchfork. What was the fascinating conceit of the book was that the story was told from the point of view of the next-door neightbor, a 15 year old teen somewhere on the Asperger/Autism scale, who found the dead dog. With the help of his teacher, Siobahn, the boy writes the story of his investigation — including all his personality quirks, such as chapters numbered as primes and so forth. Along the way to solving the investigation, he discovers hidden truths about his family, and hidden strength within himself.

The book was a truly odd presentation of a story, and really gave insight to readers about what it might be like living as an Aspie-boy, and what parenting one involved. The odd nature of the story — with digressions, tantrums, and quirks was almost non-linear at times, but it drew you in and held you rapt.

For me, it truly made me appreciate Haddon as an author (as I had Gregory Maguire of Wicked before him), and I went out and devoured Haddon’s other books as soon as they hit trade paperbacks.

When I heard that Simon Stephens and the National Theatre (FB) were developing a play based on the novel, I found it difficult to conceive of how such as odd book could be transformed for the stage in a manner that preserved its uniqueness. How does one put the mind of an Aspie on stage? Yet somehow they did, and the production came to Broadway, and then went on to win 5 Tony Awards, including Best Play.

Last night, we saw the play at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and all I can say is (paraphrasing Steve Stanley, as I believe he has the phrase trademarked): Wow!. They did it. They captures the confusion and the noise and the order and the chaos and the methodicity and the emotional lack of emotion of the Aspie mind. This was done by the interplay of having the teacher, Siobahn, of the boy, Christopher, serve as the narrator. This was done by the use of a black box stage and animations, through the use of color, and through the use of the ensemble as interchangeable people that moved throughout Christopher’s life. This was just not economy of hiring actors; it captured the fact that Aspies often find it different to identify differences in people. It was done through the performances of the actors, the choreography of movement throughout the piece, the dissonant sounds.

I recently heard a discussion about the role of a director in a stage production, which intrigued me as I’ve always had difficulty distinguishing between what the director brings and what the actor brings. The discussion pointed out that the actor brings the individual portrayal, based on their experience and research, to the character; the director brings the whole together. The overall conception, the synthesis of creatives, and the interaction of the actors with one another and with the environment created by the production creative team (set, props, lights, sound). If that is indeed the case, then Curious Incident is indeed a director’s play, with vision of the director, Marianne Elliott, providing unified environment around Christopher’s behavior, demonstrating and illustrating the larger picture that surrounds his mind, and giving reality to the truth that he speaks.

That’s not to diminish the work of the actors. As Christopher, Adam Langdon (FB)†, captures the Aspie behavior well (although I should note  that the play never states a particular diagnosis). This includes all the quirks from the behavior when touched to the focus on something else while having a discussion, to the lack of emotion in speech and action, to the fear and panic. It is a tour de force,  a powerful performance and portrayal.
† [Benjamin Wheelwright (FB) at weekend matinee performances]

All of the other actors serve as members of the ensemble as well as their principle roles. Three, however, have only one other role besides the ensemble: Maria Elena Ramirez (FB) as Siobhan — Christopher’s teacher, Gene Gillette (FB) as Ed — Christopher’s father, and Felicity Jones Latta (FB) as Judy — Christopher’s mother.  Ramirez captured well the gentle guiding force that was Siobahn — a teacher, a confidant, a source of strength. She also served as narrator, describing things that Christopher couldn’t and effectively bringing the book to the stage. Gillette’s Ed was initially gruff and inscrutable, but as the play progressed you got to see the deep depth of affection and care and concern he had for Christopher. Lastly, Latta’s Judy came into the story length and was, for much of the story, an enigma. By the end, you could see that she initially didn’t know how to handle and deal with a child like Christopher, and this led to her — shall we say “predicament” — that drove the story. By the end, however, you could see that she was getting more comfortable with her role as mother.

The remaining actors — at least from the distance we sat — formed an ensemble that went in and out of character as necessary, all providing multiple characters and props as needed, and doing well. The remaining ensemble members, and their additional roles, were: Kathy McCafferty (FB) (Mrs. Shears, Mrs. Gascoyne, Woman on Train, Shopkeeper, Voice One); Brian Robert Burns (FB★, FB) (Mr. Thompson, Policeman One, Drunk Two, Man with Socks, London Policeman, Voice Three); John Hemphill (FB) (Roger Shears, Duty Sergeant, Mr. Wise, Man Behind the Counter, Drunk One, Voice Two); Geoffrey Wade (FB) (Reverend Peters, Uncle Terry, Station Policeman, Station Guard, Voice Four); Francesca Choy-Kee (FB) (No. 37, Lady in Street, Information, Punk Girl, Voice Five), Amelia White (FB) (Mrs. Alexander, Posh Woman, Voice Six); Robyn Kerr, J. Paul Nicholas (FB).

Understudies were Josephine Hall (FB), Robyn Kerr, Tim McKiernan (FB), J. Paul Nicholas (FB), and Tim Wright (FB★, FB) (who also served as dance and fight captain).

Turning to the creative and production team: Bunny Christie‘s scenic and costume design was ingenious (well, the scenic design was — costumes were closer to everyday clothes). She created a black box with a graph-paper grid with LEDs at the nexii, and a series of white boxes. Everything came through doors in the box. This combined with Finn Ross‘s video design to create both the outside world and the world of Christopher’s mind. Added to that was the lighting design of Paule Constable that took the projections out into the audience to heighten emotion and set move, and the choreography of Scott Graham (FB) and Steven Hoggett (FB) to create the frantic movement that also served to establish both mood and emotion. Lastly, all this worked with the sound design of Ian Dickinson for Autograph and Adrian Sutton (FB)’s music to move the audience from order to cacaphony as appropriate. Other technical and production credits: David Brian Brown (FB) [Wig and Hair Design]; Ben Furey (FB) [Voice and Dialect Coach]; Daniel Swee and Cindy Tolan (FB) [Casting]; Benjamin Endsley Klein (FB) [Associate Director]; Taylor Haven Holt (FB) [Assistant Director]; Yasmine Lee (FB) and Jess Williams [Associate Choreographers]; C. Randall White [Production Stage Manager]; Lynn R. Camilo (FB) and Kristin Newhouse (FB) [Stage Managers]; Elizabeth M. Talmadge [Company Manager]; Bond Theatrical Group [Marketing and Publicity Direction]; Aurora Productions [Production Management]; The Booking Group (FB) [Tour Booking]; Bespoke Theatricals [General Manager].

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through September 10. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Box Office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. If you want an interesting show — either from the Aspie/Autism angle or just the mystery angle — this is well worth seeing.

***

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:

August theatre starts with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have 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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“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” | Fun Home @ Ahmanson

Fun Home (Ahmanson)There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.

Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.

It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before.  Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.

Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.

As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).

As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.

Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.

The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.

Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.

Fun Home continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until April 1. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking here.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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

Upcoming Shows: Next week brings  Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The end of the month brings An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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

P.S.: The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: The Ahmanson Theatre

Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. At the beginning of February, the Pantages made their announcement about their 2017-2018 season (or at least what is left of it after Hamilton presents), and I gave my thoughts on it and assessed my predictions. Today, the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) gave a rough announcement of their season (with more details in the Playbill version), so let’s see what I think and how I did.

☛ 🎱 ☚

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

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

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

☛ 🎱 ☚

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list: Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, The Color Purple, On Your Feet, and Waitress. So lets see how I did for the Ahmanson, based on what the Times has as their announcement:

  • Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes. September 15 – October 1, 2017.  An American premiere. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale that was adapted into the 1948 film and best picture Oscar nominee of the same name, “The Red Shoes” will be Bourne’s ninth project to come to the Ahmanson. Not on my list at all. I’m not a big ballet fan, nor a fan of Matthew Bourne.
  • Bright Star. October 11–November 19, 2017.  The folksy Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical. I predicted this for the Pantages, but it balances Waitress which I predicted for the Ahmanson. This is something I want to see.
  • Something Rotten! November 21–December 31, 2017. The witty, giddy backstage crowd-pleaser set in Shakespeare’s time earned 10 Tony nominations in 2015, including best musical. Predicted for the Ahmanson. This is something I want to see.
  • Soft Power. May 3–June 10, 2018. A world premiere David Henry Hwang that work takes the form of a Chinese musical about present-day America. Originally commissioned for the Mark Taper Forum. Jeanine Tesori will join the creative team for this production, which starts as a contemporary play and time-shifts into a musical 100 years in the future.  I predicted a pre-Broadway musical. This may be it. Unsure based on the subject, but Tesori’s involvement makes it interesting.
  • The Humans. June 19–July 29, 2018. Stephen Karam’s one-act that won four Tony Awards last year including best play. I correctly predicted this for the Ahmanson. Not sure yet if I want to see it.

One production will be announced later (obviously, in the January 1, 2018 through April 30, 2018 time period, although that period could easily support two shows — so why it is dark for so long is unknown and uncharacteristic of the Ahmanson. I am disappointed that the Ahmanson is not mounting Allegiance, but perhaps they are in negotiation for the TBA slot. Spring Awakening is less likely for that slot, given it was at the Wallis Annenberg just before Broadway.

 

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Fearing Who Are Different | “Zoot Suit” at Mark Taper Forum

Zoot Suit (Mark Taper Forum)Where were you from mid-August to the beginning of October, 1978? Me? I was in my second year as a Junior Counselor up at Gindling Hilltop Camp (FB), followed by starting my Sophmore year at UCLA. I wasn’t the avid theatre-goer back then, although I do remember seeing another Center Theatre Group (FB) show at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), They’re Playing Our Song with Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (FB). I recall that I knew about a new show called Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB), but I certainly hadn’t been to the Mark Taper Forum, nor was I going to go up to the Mutual Ticketing Window at the Student Union to get full price tickets for it (for there was no notion of discount tickets back then). I even didn’t get tickets after it moved to the Aquarius Theatre. However, I do remember the El Pachuco ads all around the city. I later learned of the significance of the production — for its message, for its impact on Chicano theatre, and for its impact on the œuvre of the Los Angeles centered play. I am still sorry I missed the original production.

So when I learned that Center Theatre Group (FB) was celebrating its 50th anniversary by remounting Zoot Suit, I had to get tickets. We were able to fit one of the preview performances into our schedule, and so last night saw us at the Mark Taper, bookmarked and interspersed with a series of what can be best called “adventures”.

Zoot Suit is a dramatized retelling of the incidents surrounding the Sleepy Lagoon Murder and the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Names were changed, and some events altered slightly, but what strikes me in reading the linked Wikipedia pages is how much of the truth of what happened made it into the show. Note: If you are curious where the Sleepy Lagoon was, wonder no longer — this website has the answer.

A good summary is from the ABC-CLIO website on the show:

A work of historical fiction, Zoot Suit follows two significant stories of racial injustice in Los Angeles from the 1940s. Set in the streets of East Los Angeles, Zoot Suit recounts events of the 1942 Sleepy Lagoon case and the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots. These incidents became symbolic of the racial injustice against Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and across the country during this time period. The play follows Henry Reyna and members of the predominantly Mexican American 38th Street Gang, who were wrongly accused and convicted of murder. The play also treats incidents from the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, where racial tensions escalated into violent confrontations between zoot suit–wearing pachucos, U.S. servicemen, and Los Angeles law enforcement. The play is set against actual testimony from the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial and press headlines from the 1940s, recounting these historical events through the eyes of a group of Mexican American youth. At the center of Zoot Suit is the character El Pachuco, an idealized zoot suiter played memorably by Olmos during the play’s (original) Los Angeles run.

I think the saddest thing about Zoot Suit is that it is again relevant. The unjustified racial animosity against Mexicans, Filipinos, Blacks, and other non-whites during the 1940s has sadly seen a resurgence today, and the techniques and biases and riots that were seen then, built out of a fear of xenophobia, has infested our society today. Back then, it was the zoot suit that tarred many hard-working men unjustifiably as dangerous; today, it is the hijab, the beard, and the hoodie. Almost 75 years later, and white society is still fearful of the stranger that is coming to attack their privilege. Back then, they registered Japanese and Hispanics; today, it is Muslims. Reading the history, leaders like Ceser Chavez and Malcom X were zoot suiters. Will we ever learn from history? Our leaders today want extreme vetting and bans to keep out muslims, and they want a wall to keep out, yes, the Mexicans.

Back in December, Donald Trump complained that theatre should not make one uncomfortable. He is wrong. Although there are times theatre is an escape, theatre at its heart makes one uncomfortable. It speaks truth to power, it dramatizes messages that must be heard, and be heard, and be heard again until they sink into our thick skulls. What makes our country great is not the top 1% with all the money. What makes our country great are the immigrants, the workers, and those who struggle everyday; they are the ones who work the hardest to make a better life. They don’t want to keep people out to protect the life they have.

So, do I think you should see Zoot Suit? Hell yes. See it. Talk about it. Learn from it.

One other thought related to the overall show. Two weeks ago, we saw another Hispanic production, the Dual Language version of Disney’s Aladdin at Casa 0101 in East LA.  Very different, but very similar. Both tell a story of Love. Both tell a story of class and non-acceptance. Both have elements of intolerance. Both mesmerize, but in different ways. Zoot Suit was the start of Chicano theatre in Los Angeles; looking back at intolerance of Pachuco culture in our city. Aladdin is where Chicano theatre is today, building upon dual language while still demonstrating how lack of understanding between cultural groups can divide. A cartoon going around Facebook this week showed Jasmine and Aladdin on the carpet, noting that “I can show you the world… well, except the United States.” Speaking truth to power, have we come that far and grown. Alas, perhaps not.

The realization of the show by author and director Luis Valdez (FB) had a very newspaper-ish esthetic: stacks of newspapers served as chairs, tables, and beds; there was lots of emphasis on the headlines of the day and newspaper reporters; there was projection on to Venetian blinds. Looking back at some original production photos, however, and it appears this was much like the original conception. It still worked.  Valdez also gave the show a very authentic Chicano and Pachuco feel; one got the impression that the feel of the show was the feel of the original. I’ll note here that the show was co-produced with El Teatro Campesino (FB), Valdez’s theatre company. ETC was also the birthplace of Culture Clash, who we saw at VPAC back in November — in many ways unknowingly preparing us for Zoot Suit and introducing us to the music of Lalo Guerrero, who composed much of Zoot Suit‘s original music. Alas, there is no CD of Zoot Suit, and the movie soundtrack is only available on vinyl. Pity.

Leading us through the Zoot Suit dramatization was El Pachuco, played originally by Edward James Olmos (FB), and here by Demian Bichir (FB). El Pachuco is perhaps the alter-ego of the lead character and “leader” of the gang, Henry Reyna. He eggs Henry on, pushes him in various directions, spreads the Pachuco way, and provides a little clarity to the audience.  Bichir channels the character well, embodying the style and attitude that is so important in the Pachuco culture.

Playing the lead character, Henry Reyna, and his girlfriend Della Barrios were Daniel Valdez (FB) and Rose Portillo (FB), respectively. Wait, strike that. Those were who played those roles in the original 1978 production. In this production, Valdez and Portillo provided interesting continuity with the past by playing the parents of Henry Renya, Enrique Reyna and Dolores Reyna. It was an interesting nod to the original and a passing of the torch; I’m sure it was astoundingly meaningful to the acting ensemble.

Let’s try this again, in this production, playing the lead character, Henry Reyna, and his girlfriend Della Barrios were Matias Ponce (FB) and Jeanine Mason (FB), respectively. Ponce is on-stage for almost the entire show and he has the presence to carry it off. His portrayal captures well the opposing natures of Henry: leadership and violence, family and love, the tormented conflict of one under constant attack by “the man”. Mason’s role is smaller, yet she is still quite fun to watch and shines in her scenes at the conclusion of the story.

The remainder of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants and the key gang members we see are Ismael “Smiley’ Torres (Raul Cardona (FB), also: u/s El Pachuco), Joey Castro (Oscar Camacho), and Tommy Roberts (Caleb Foote (FB)). They embodied their characters well, bringing distinct personalities to what could have been cookie-cutter portrayals. Their individual moments during the jail sequences were great.

Rounding out the Reyes family were Stephani Candelaria (FB) as Lupe Reyna and Andres Ortiz (FB) as Rudy Reyna. Candelaria’s Lupe was fun to watch, especially in her initial scenes with the family before the first dance. Ortiz’s Rudy showed the power of drink to change a personality, with the actor handily capturing the transformation from kid wannabe to dangerously hot-tempered drinker.

Rounding out the lead characters were Brian Abraham (FB) as Henry’s attorney, George Shearer, and Tiffany Dupont (FB) as Alice Bloomfield, head of the committee that was arranging for the legal defense of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants.  Abraham’s Shearer was a typical grizzled attorney who cared about his clients deeply, and came across well. Dupont’s Bloomfield captured the style of the era well and had great chemistry and humor with all four of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants, but especially with Ponce’s Henry.

Rounding out the cast in various roles were: Mariela Arteaga [La Pachuca Hoba, u/s Bertha Villareal]; Melinna Bobadilla (FB) [Bertha Villareal, u/s Dolores Reyna]; Fiona Cheung (FB) [La Pachuca Manchuka]; Holly Hyman (FB) [La Pachuca Lil Blue]; Kimberlee Kidd [Dance Captain, Guera, u/s Alice Bloomfield]; Rocío López (FB) [Elena Tores, u/s Della Barios / Lupe Reyna]; Tom G. McMahon [Press]; Michael Naydoe Pinedo (FB) [Ragman / Cub Reporter / Sailor , u/s Rafas / Marine , u/s Joey Castro , u/s Sergeant Smith / Baliff / Bosun’s Mate]; Gilbert Saldivar (FB) [Rafas / Marine, u/s Enrique Reyna / Ismael ‘Smiley’ Torres]; Richard Steinmetz (FB) [Lt. Edwards / Judge F.W. Charles / Prison Guard]; Evan Strand (FB) [Swabbie, u/s Tommy Roberts / Cub Reporter]; Bradford Tatum (FB) [Sergeant Smith / Boson’s Mate / Baliff, u/s George Shearer / Press / Lt. Edwards / Judge F.W. Charles / Prison Guard]; and Raphael Thomas (FB) [Dance Captain / Newsboy, u/s Swabbie]. All were strong dancers and performers. I want to highlight Bobadilla’s Bertha Villareal, who was a standout in her scenes.

Turning to the music and movement side: Daniel Valdez (FB) was the music director, with choreography by Maria Torres (FB). The movement and dance was strong, with what seemed to be (at least to me) period appropriate dance. Hand in hand with the movement was the fight direction of Steve Rankin (FB). With respect to music, it appears to have been pre-recorded, as there are no credits for musicians.

The scenic design, which I mentioned previously and worked quite well, was by Christopher Acebo. It was complemented by the projection design of David Murakami (FB) and the lighting design of Pablo Santiago. I particularly appreciated the latter’s use of red lighting in a few scenes to create a very ominous tone. Murakami’s projections provided the news backdrop, especially when projected against the Venetian blinds. The sound design was by Philip G. Allen. At the preview performance there were numerous sound problems, including some very bad computer-created static in Act I and some very low microphones — all of which I presume will be ironed out by opening, as will some overly loud sound effects. <rant> What won’t be ironed out was the static caused by cellphones!!! People — please — put your phones in airplane mode or turn them off during a show. You can focus your attention for something live for three hours instead of your silly screens! </rant> The costume design of Ann Closs-Farley and the wig design of Jessica Mills (FB) worked together to recreate the 1940s — the costumers were just fantastic for both the ladies and the gents (credit also goes to El Pachuco Zoot Suits in Fullerton for the wonderful suits). Rounding out the credits were David S. Franklin – Production Stage Manager; Neel Keller – Associate Artistic Director; and Phillip Esparza — Executive Producer / El Teatro Campesino. Michelle Blair and Susie Walsh were the stage managers.

Zoot Suit continues at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) through March 19. Tickets are available through the CTG website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Don’t miss this show this time.

: Such as, you ask: We had a relatively bad dinner at Black Bottom Southern Cuisine at Vineland and Cabrillo in NoHo: it may have been takeout hipster, but it wasn’t great Q (the BarBeQue Bar up the street is much better) or good Southern, and they used too much MSG. My wife left her purse on the Metro when we got off at Civic Center; luckily Metro security nabbed it and had it at Union Station for pickup, but we had to go back in and ride one stop to Union Station and back to pick it up before the show (this left my wife’s knee in pain); the preview audience was poor — arriving late (stand up to let them in) both for the show and after intermission (ouch! that was my toe!), leaving early, and using their cell phones; coming back the Metro accelerated harder than usual throwing us across the train because we hadn’t sat down yet; and then driving back we drove through a cloud of burning rubber on the freeway. Good show around a bad evening.

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

Upcoming Shows: February 2017 continues with the Manhattan Transfer at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on February 9th, followed by 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB) over the weekend. The third weekend brings Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (FB) on Friday, February 17, with seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

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

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.

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