Observations Along the Road

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

What We Call Making an Exit 👴 “Endgame” @ CTG + “Carney Magic”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 08, 2016 @ 6:45 pm PDT

Endgame (Kirk Douglas)userpic=ahmansonIf you attend musicals, there are classic composers and lyricists that you should see. Similarly, if you attend plays, there are seminal playwrights (in addition to Shakespeare). One of these is Samuel Beckett, a 20th century author of a number of absurdist comedies. Currently, the  Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) is doing one of these plays (Endgame, 1957); it has the added benefit of being directed by one of the few actor/directors left that actually worked with Beckett when he was alive, Alan Mandell (FB). When we discovered that Endgame was on the Kirk Douglas schedule while seeing a show at the Ahmanson, we decided we should take advantage of Hottix and catch it. We were able to get seats, and so after a lovely dinner at Picnic LA (FB), we entered the absurd world of Samuel Becket.

Endgame is hard to describe. It is a four character play. The lead is Hamm (Alan Mandell (FB)), an old man confined to a wheelchair, who is unable to walk and unable to see. Taking care of him is Clov (Barry McGovern), who may be his son (it is unclear). Clov is unable to sit down. Near him, in two ashbins, are Hamm’s elderly parents, Nagg (James Greene) and Nell (Charlotte Rae, at our performance, alternating with Anne Gee Byrd (FB)). They do not have legs. The setting, which Beckett is very particular about (i.e., no interpretations allows) is a small empty space. Left and right back, high up, are two small windows, curtains drawn. At the front right is a door. Hanging near door, its face to wall, a picture. There are the two ashbins, front left, touching each other. Hamm is in the center, in an armchair on castors, initially covered with an old sheet.

The play consists of Clov taking care of Hamm, and Hamm directing Clov to do various things. At points Clov tries to go away, but he rarely succeeds for long, being constantly called back to take care of Hamm. Nagg and Nell interact with each other for a bit, but Nell passes away at some point. Nagg also interacts with Hamm, being requested to listen to a story the Hamm wants to tell after Clov refuses to listen to it. At the end of the play, Clov finally indicates that his leaving. He then stands there, dressed to go, while Hamm continues on believing he has been abandoned.

You can find a more detailed plot summary at SparkNotes. You can actually find the text of the play at the Samuel Beckett website.

One of the questions I had watching this play is: What led Beckett to write this? After all, it is such a strange play, it is difficult to see how the situation and dialog could come to a playwright. But I guess that’s why I’m not a playwright. Beckett wrote this play during an era when Theatre of the Absurd was popular. It was a post WWII-style. According to Wikipedia, Theatre of the Absurd focused largely on the idea of existentialism and expressed what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down, in fact alerting their audiences to pursue the opposite. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence. It is up to the audience to decide the meaning of the piece.

Endgame Publicity PhotosAs I’m a Professional Audience™ PEND , here are my thoughts on meaning.

The primary thought that kept going through my head while watching the performance was the relationship of my wife to her mother. Her mother is in assisted living right now, dealing with mental deterioration. The resulting relationships of parent to child, caregiver to caregivee, is a lot like the relationship between Clov and Hamm. Hamm is elderly and utterly dependent on Clov to feed him, clothe him, give him medicine, and fulfill his every need. Hamm is also non-sensical, often living in the past, at times petulant and vindictive, not caring about those around him, gruff and bitter, and at other times resigned. If you have ever seen a parent dealing with cognitive impairment or Alzheimers, that is exactly the behavior. Clov, on the other hand, is like any adult child taking care of such a parent. He keeps wanting to leave, wanting to have his own life, but is trapped in the endgame of taking care of his parent because he’s the only one who is able to do so. This game has worn him down so that any love that has been there has been replaced by forced duty, forced obligation. Whatever relationship there once was has been eroded away. At the end of the play, Clov finally decides to be his own man and walk away and take care of himself for one — but never quite makes it out.

So what about Nagg and Nell. I think they were the memories of the parents in the mind of Hamm. Often, for such patients, they are living in a quasi-world where both the past and the present exist in their mind. Clov was required to play along with the artiface, as caregivers often do.

There are some wonderful lines in the production that seem to support my interepretation:

  • Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right mind. Then it passes over and I’m as lucid as before.
  • Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right senses. Then it passes off and I’m as intelligent as ever.

I’ve certainly felt that way.

That’s the primary interpretation that was in my head. The secondary interpretation was more of a joke, but as I thought about it… it made quite a bit of sense: Endgame is a political argument on Facebook. Hamm represents the person posting the initial article and defending it with all sorts of convoluted argument. The argument draws people into a discussion they can never quite leave, and into which they get trapped — until they just decide to walk away. Nell and Nogg, in this case, are side digressions that support the story but go in unexpected directions. The fact that everyone in the discussion is crippled in one way or another is a representation of the fact that nobody on Facebook is playing with a full deck.

But Beckett couldn’t have been talking about Facebook. After all, it didn’t exist in era when the play was written.

In general, the story focuses on the larger issue of dependency, and the dispair that dependency can bring to us. Hamm is dependent on Clov. Clov on Hamm (he has the keys to the larder). Nagg on Hamm. And so far. As we are dependent for longer, we become handicapped by our dependency, and it traps us. The term “Endgame” refers to the chess position where the final set of moves are dictated and cannot be changed. Our dependency traps us into an endgame. How do we escape? Nell makes that clear: she escapes by dying, after she refuses to be dependent on Nagg. At the end, has Clov refused enough to escape? We never find out.

The discussion above is the demonstration of one important take-away about this performance: it was good enough to make people think about a variety of subjects. It provided the ability for the elderly cast (I don’t think there has been a cast this elderly on stage since the last production of 70 Girls 70) to demonstrate their expertise with Beckett — this was a rare chance to see some of the foremost Beckett performers on one stage. It was at points humorous, sad, befuddling,  touching, relevant and irreverent. It was outstanding.

Normally, at this point, I would turn to a discussion about the performances. All were spectacular, and it was difficult to single anyone out. Central to the story were the spot on performances of Alan Mandell (FB) and Barry McGovern. These are foremost interpreters of Beckett; they know how to convey every nuance of the story. Our Nagg (James Greene) and Nell (Charlotte Rae, at our performance, alternating with Anne Gee Byrd (FB)) worked well together; I hesitate to say chemistry, for that implies there is a reaction between the two. I think the overall ensemble was just interesting to watch.  Note that Ned Schmidtke was the understudy for the male roles.

Turning to the production and creative side: The overall production was directed by Alan Mandell (FB), whose experience with Beckett was demonstrated in the overall ensemble and portrayal. John Iacovelli (FB)’s scenic design captured well the bleakness that Beckett intended from the text: a cold-grey stone castle, with two inset grey windows, grey dustbins, dirty dropcloths, grey clothing. A world of despair, with nothing to live for except the life from the characters. Maggie Morgan (FB)’s costume designs were equally bleak: grey, black, and dark-brown bed clothes and suits, adding to the atmosphere. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting design was strong, as usual: mostly white lights, often kept dimmer, adding to bleakness. A lack of color. Cricket S. Myers (FB)’s sound design was what a good sound design should be: unnoticeable. The few sound effects that were present worked well. Rounding out the production credits: Susie Walsh (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; John Sloan (FB) (Assistant Director); Brooke Baldwin (FB) [Stage Manager]. Michael Ritchie is the Artistic Director for Center Theatre Group.

One last note: After the performance, there was an audience discussion on the meaning of Endgame. This discussion was led by Isabella Petrini (FB), and was excellent. Isabella also curated the Endgame game in the foyer, and we had the pleasure of talking to her before the show. Isabella’s company, Bae Theatre (FB), has a show at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): Matt and Ben. It sounds interesting, and is written by Mindy Kaling. Alas, I have already booked my schedule, and do not have room to fit it in, but figured I would mention it.

Endgame continues through May 22 at the  Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group online. Hottix may be available. All offers for Endgame on Goldstar have expired, but tickets are available to the next show at the Kirk Douglas.

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Carney Magic (Colony)userpic=colonyAt the last minute, an opportunity arose for live performance today as well. As you recall, The Colony Theatre (FB) had gone dark due to financial problems, although there was the option for subscribers to potentially attend lease events. One such event was this weekend: Carney Magic, an encore performance of a previous successful lease. Carney Magic is what is purports to be: 90 minutes of sleight of hand magic by magician John Carney (FB).

So, how was the magic? Entertaining. I couldn’t see how it was done, but it was also a relatively straightforward slight of hand show. There was audience participation. There was humor.

I think the larger question for me was: This fellow is entertaining and does corporate shows. Is this a possibility for ACSAC in December? That I haven’t decided yet. I want to see Einstein at the Fringe Festival first.

I will note there was one thing that was sad about the show: seeing the lobby and waiting area at the Colony. Evidently, it is a full-on lease house now, and all the photos of past productions are down. All of the furniture and old props are out, replaced by simple uncomfortable seats. The art gallery is empty of art. The character is gone. I felt like I was identifying a corpse in a hospital, and that was sad. The patient may not be dead yet, but she’s definitely moved out to either Board and Care or Assisted Living, and it was sad. We may, alas, be in the Endgame period for the Colony. And that’s sad.

Production credits for Carney Magic: Written and manipulated by John Carney (FB). Produced by John Carney (FB) and PFC Entertainment. Additional material by Jim Steinmeyer. Technical coordination by Genetra Tull.

We saw the last performance of this incarnation of Carney Magic.

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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) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next week sees us in the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). We will also be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

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

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.


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How To Succeed … The Other Way 🎩 Gentleman’s Guide (GGLAM) @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 27, 2016 @ 7:03 pm PDT

Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonIn the early 1960’s Frank Loesser classic How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (H2$), the main character, J. Pierpont Finch, works his way to the top of the company by ruthlessly eliminating through unsuspecting tricks those above him on the food chain. It ends on a note of “what’s next?”, after someone suggested that the President better watch out.

Now, transport yourself back to London in 1909. In A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (GGLAM) (FB), currently at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), we have a similar story: Monty Navarro, an outcast cousin of the wealthy and famous D’Ysquith family, discovers that there are 8 people in the line of succession between him and the position of Earl of Highhurst. He, too, learned that there is a way to succeed without really trying to get to the top: through love and murder. As Monty murders… or perhaps doesn’t murder… his way to the top, the audience is taken for a rollicking and extremely funny ride.

The notes to the show note the similarity of the plot to Kind Hearts and Cornets, the 1949 film starring Alec Guiness, where he played eight different characters in a wealthy family being murdered by the ninth man in line for the fortune. It notes that both Kind Hearts and GGLAM are both based on the 1907 novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman. Yet in writing this up the parallels between GGLAM and H2$ are quite striking: a young ambitious man working his way to the top while deftly sabotaging, directly or indirectly, those in the path above him to clear the way. Both, at times, exhibit their era’s stereotypical attitudes that are a little bit off today. Both are extremely funny. Both won Tony awards.

What GGLAM adds to the mix that H2$ does not have, however, is a playful conceit drawn from Kind Hearts: all the family members being killed are portrayed by the same actor. This quick change adds to the fun, because unlike film where there is time to change hair and makeup, stage transitions provide extremely little time. This means the actor portraying the family-to-die must be very versatile and creative.

What are the basics of the story, which was adapted from the aforementioned novel by Robert L. Freedman (FB) (Book and Lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (FB) (Music and Lyrics)? Monty Navarro, who is at the bottom of the social rungs living in poverty, is informed just after his mother’s death that he is a disinherited cousin of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family. His branch was cut off after his mother married a Castilian for love, instead of marrying for position or power. Monty is informed that there are eight D’Ysquiths ahead of him in the line of succession. Monty resolves that he will regain his rightful place in the family. After being scorned on his initial approaches, he meets with the only D’Ysquith that will talk to him: the Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith. After a dilemma similar to that faced by Seymour Krelborn with the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors results in the death of the Reverend, Monty resolves that he will become the Ninth Earl of Highhurst. How? Well, this is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, isn’t it? All that stands in front of Monty are Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr., Henry D’Ysquith, Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, Major Lord Bartholomew D’Ysquith, Lady Salome D’Yssquith Pumphrey, Asquith D’Ysquith Sr., and Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith.

So where is the Love in the title? That comes from Sibella, the love interest of Monty. However, she does want to marry for wealth and position, which at the start of the story, Monty doesn’t have.  Instead, she marries the boring Lord Hallward and keeps on with Monty on the side … growing more interested in him as he moves his way to the top. Complicating matters, however, arise when Henry D’Ysquith passes. Henry is living with Phoebe D’Ysquith, and quickly, Phoebe falls in love with Monty. She proposes, he accepts, and now you have the complicating love factor of the story.

I won’t go into the closing details of the story; you can get that from the Wikipedia synopsis if you don’t mind the spoilers. Suffice it to say that the path from the first to the last, with the complications of the two women, are hilarious. This is the type of humorous farce that last week’s Bach at Leipzig needed to be, but wasn’t. Under the direction of Darko Tresnjak (FB), the silly and crazy energy required is maintained from the opening song until after the curtain call. Tresnjak brought out a playfulness in his acting team that was broadcast to the audience and was infectious.

The acting team was extremely strong. In the lead positions were John Rapson (FB) as all the members of the D’Ysquith family, and Kevin Massey (FB) as Monty D’Ysquith Navarro. I never saw the original cast member, Jefferson Mays in the role, so I cannot compare. From my vantage, Rapson was astounding — being loads of different characters in different costumes all with different comic mannerisms. He was just a hoot to watch. It seems that everything he did — and he was having fun doing it — was with the express goal of “the funny”. It worked. It is difficult to say which of his many characters was the most fun… it was either Henry or Lord Adalbert in his interactions with his wife. Massey’s Navarro was able to keep up with him; a 1909 Pierpont Finch plotting and scheming and occasionally second-guessing himself in a very funny way. Massey’s songs were less aimed at the funny, and he had a lovely voice with which to carry them off.

The love interests were portrayed by Kristen Beth Williams (FB) as Sibella Hallward and Adrienne Eller (FB) as Phoebe D’Ysquith. Both had lovely singing voices, both were sexy, and both had great comic chops. This was demonstrated in top form in the Act II number “I’ve Decided to Marry You”.  I enjoyed watching them both, but I must admit I was very taken by Eller’s performance (it is just so cute). Fun, fun to watch. Hint: If you sit close enough (or bring binoculars), watch their facial expressions throughout the show (as well as those of the other D’Ysquiths). These actors were really into their roles.

Almost all of the other roles, with the exception of Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel (FB)), the lifelong friend of Monty’s mother who informs him of his status, are played by the members of the ensemble switching into named characters. All of these folks were very strong. Again, it was fun watch their faces and movements — it is clear they are having loads of fun doing this show and that energy and fun comes is projected out to the audience. I do want to highlight  Kristen Megelkoch (FB), who was spectacular as Lady Eugenia — her comic interaction with Rapson’s Lord Adalbert was just hilarious. The ensemble (and swings, because I have no idea whether any of those ninjas were on stage) were: Christopher Behmke (FB) (Magistrate, Guard, Ensemble), Sarah Ellis (FB) (Swing/Dance Captain), Matt Leisy (FB) (Tom Copley, Ensemble), Megan Loomis (FB) (Tour Guide, Ensemble), Dani Marcus (FB) (Swing), Lesley McKinnell (FB) (Miss Barley, Ensemble), Kristen Megelkoch (FB) (Lady Eugenia, Ensemble), David Scott Purdy (FB) (Swing/Fight Captain), Chuck Ragsdale (FB) (Swing), and Ben Roseberry (FB) (Chief Inspector Pinckney, Ensemble).

As they often point out at the soon to be dark Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), live musicals are nothing without live music (a lesson that the Theater League in Thousand Oaks evidently didn’t learn). GGLAM had a 13 person orchestra (when do they change from a band to an orchestra?) under the music direction of Lawrence Goldberg. The orchestra gave a very nice sound and did not overpower the actors. The orchestra consisted of Albin Konopka (FB) (Associate Music Director / Piano), Eric Kang (Piano / Librarian), Jonathan Davis (Oboe / English Horn), Larry Hughes (Clarinet), Andrew Klein (Bassoon), Joe Meyer (French Horn), Robert Schaer (Trumpet), Jen Choi Fischer (Violin 1), Marisa Kuney (Violin 2), Diane Gilbert (Viola), David Mergin (Cello), Ken Wild (Bass), and Cliff Hulling (Percussion). The music contractor was Seymour Red Press / Robert Payne. Paul Staroba was the music supervisor. Orchestrations were by Jonathan Tunick.

The dances in GGLAM make clever use of the space, and are not the typical production numbers (kick kick step turn). Kudos to Peggy Hickey (FB) for the choreography. As dance captain, Sarah Ellis (FB) got the un-envious job of maintaining that choreography on the road.

Turning to the production and creative side: Alexander Dodge‘s scenic design for the tour provides a limited working stage within a stage that keeps the action narrowly focused and emphasizes the comic and theatrical nature of the story being told. This is complemented by the projection design of Aaron Rhyne (FB), which permits the working stage to be many locations through back projection of a scenic flat, often with animation. Both combined with the lighting of Philip S. Rosenberg to provide an effective package of sight and mood. [ETA: An aside on the lighting: I noticed much fewer lights for this show than usual, as it appears the Ahmanson has gone to the more versatile LED lighting systems.] As for sound, the sound design of Dan Moses Schreier was one of the clearest I’ve heard for a tour in ages. Of course, the creativity didn’t stop with the stage, lights, and sounds. They were complemented by the remarkable costumes of Linda Cho, the hair and wig design of Charles G. LaPointe, and the make-up of Brian Strumwasser. As an example of how these were remarkable, consider that John Rapson had to instantly change not only costumes, but wigs and makeup in seconds during transitions, and it was flawless.

The remaining members of the production team were: Dianne Adams McDowell (Vocal Arranger), Binder Casting (Casting), Tripp Phillips (Production Supervisor / Assistant Director), Daniel S. Rosokoff (Production Stage Manager), Eric H. Mayer (Stage Manager), Sarah Helgesen (Assistant Stage Manager).  Neuro Tour provided physical therapy. There were loads and loads of producers. This was an AEA tour.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through May 1, 2016. Tickets are available through the CTG Box Office. Discount tickets may be available through the CTG Hottix program, and Goldstar. It is well worth it — a well done very funny show.

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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 had been subscribing at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and REP East (FB): but all have gone or are going dark., I just added a subscription to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This afternoon saw us in Beverly Hills for A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) — this will be written up in the next day or two.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB) (although we may end up seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) in the Bay Area instead (support their kickstarter), meaning I have a weekend to program!). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz, but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond Musical✨. We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.



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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Ahmanson 🎭 Geffen

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 22, 2016 @ 7:28 pm PDT

userpic=theatre2Well, the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and The Geffen Playhouse (FB) just announced their upcoming seasons, so it is time for another “Thoughts on a Theatre Season“…

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The Ahmanson Theatre

Back in January, when Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the Pantages (FB) announced their seasons (and after a moment of silence for Cabrillo), I wrote:

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

The Ahmanson just announced their season, and I ended up being 2 out of 6. Here are my thoughts:

  • Thumbs Down Arthur Miller’s A View from a Bridge. Sep 7 – Oct 16, 2016. This is the Young Vic production, but it doesn’t really excite me.
  • Thumbs Up Amalie: A New Musical. Dec 6, 2016 – Jan 15, 2017. This premiered last fall under the direction of Pam McKinnon at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. I liked the movie, so this intrigues me.
  • Thumbs Up Fun HomeFeb 21 – Apr 1, 2017.Tony-winning. Need I say more?
  • Thumbs Down Into the Woods. Apr 4 – May 14, 2017. This is the Fiasco 10-actor version, but I’ve seen the original and I’ve seen it in 99 seat. Why see it again?
  • Thumbs Down Jersey Boys. May 16 – Jun 24, 2017. Been there. Saw it.
  • Thumbs Up Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  Aug 2 – Sep 10, 2017. Oh yes.

This still leaves the question of where Aladdin and School of Rock will end up: I’m guessing the Pantages after Hamilton; similarly, Something Rotten may also end up at the Pantages depending on timing, or the next season at the Ahmanson.

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The Geffen

The Geffen in Westwood has also announced their season. My thoughts:

  • Thumbs Down Barbecue. Sept. 6 to Oct. 16, 2016. Seen last year at the Public Theater in New York. O’Hara’s comedy follows two families — one white, one black — as they bicker and brawl amongst themselves at separate gatherings in a public park.
  • Thumbs Down Margulies’ The Model Apartment. Oct. 11 to Nov. 20, 2016. This debuted in 1995 and tells the story of a retired couple living in a condo.
  • Thumbs Down Icebergs. Nov. 8 to Dec. 18, 2016. This takes place in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, following four friends negotiating professional and personal challenges. World premier of a Alena Smith play.
  • Thumbs Down Benjamin Scheuer’s solo show The Lion. Jan. 4 to Feb. 19.
  • Thumbs Down Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride. April 4, 2017, to May 14, 2017.
  • thumbs-side Payne’s Constellations. June 6, 2017 to July 16, 2017. The elusive story involves a man and a woman, bound together by advanced physics.

Plus two productions to be announced later. Only one show piques my interest, which is about par for the course at the Geffen.

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Going Straight to the Source 🎭 “An Act of God” @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 08, 2016 @ 7:49 pm PDT

An Act of God (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonHave you ever wanted a relationship with God?

Have you ever wondered what God thinks of the world today?

Have you ever wondered if God answers prayers?

Have you ever wondered if God would revise the Ten Commandments, if he (or she) could?

Have you ever wondered if God was a Windows or a Mac user?

If you have, get thee down to the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and see Sean Hayes (FB) in An Act of God (FB), which we saw yesterday evening. Yes, the evening of the Super Bowl. Great time to go to the theatre. It was empty, and our $25 Hottix became 6th row center! I’ll have to remember that.

In any case, back to God. You might have heard about this show. It is based on the book “A Memoir of God” by God (FB, TW) and David Javerbaum (FB). Well, mostly by Javerbaum serving as God’s ghostwriter. After all, if you’re incorporial, it is hard to hold a chisel (just ask Moses), or type on a laptop … and I have a feeling that God does not like Microsoft Word.

As I was saying, you may have heard of this show. It’s basic conceit is that God comes back to Earth and inhabits the body of a white male comedian, and expounds on society today, answering questions from the audience. On Broadway, God inhabited Jim Parsons. But even God couldn’t get Jim Parsons out of a contract with Chuck Lorre, and so for Hollywood, he inhabited Sean Hayes (FB). [BTW, I never noticed how much Hayes looks like John Ritter]

The show starts with a death. Well, think a blue screen of death. But it then goes on to God just sitting and chatting with the audience, and expounding on various subjects. God talks about the Ten Commandments, and decides to introduce a new set of commandments for today.

If you want a sense of the show, look no further than the bios. Here’s the show’s bio of God:

GOD is the original multi-hyphenate and triple threat, an auteur and visionary whose bold creations and intelligent designs have earned Him international recognition since Day One. Though best known for his performance art, He is also a writer whose previous literary efforts, The Old Testament and The New Testament, have collectively sold an impressive 7,000,000,000 copies. They have also been adapted numerous times for the big screen, most recently by Ridley Scott in Exodus, a project he regrets green-lighting. An Act of God is His first work written directly for the stage, although His 1827 comic romp The Book of Mormon was recently adapted into a successful, albeit unauthorized, Broadway musical. The current production marks his first appearance in California not involving the consumption of psychotropic drugs. God lives in heaven with His wife Ruth and their children Zach, Jesus and Kathy. He is managed by David Miner at 3Arts Entertainment.

So what are the New Ten Commandments. Piecing them together from various reviews, I get:

  1. I am the Lord your God. Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me
  2. Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate
  3. Thou shalt not kill in My name
  4. Thou shalt separate me and state
  5. Thou shalt honor thy children
  6. Thou shalt not take my name in vain
  7. Thou shalt not tell Me what to do
  8. x
  9. Thou shalt not believe in Me
  10. Thou shalt believe in You.

(The numbers may not be right, and I’ve forgotten one of them)

On each of these, as well as in numerous other bible stories (creation, Noah, Jesus), God (as Sean Hayes) expounds with a load of humor. Many targets are skewered, but especially the religious right and those who use God for their own purpose.

Will you find it funny? That’s a different question. If you aren’t extremely religious, probably. If you see the hypocracy in many who are religious, probably. If you’re a fundamentalist Bible belt thumper, I doubt it.

For me, it was one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in… a week (what a pair — this and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)

I should note that God isn’t alone on stage. He is supported by David Josefsberg (FB) as Michael (the angel in the audience, representing the view of Man), and James Gleason (FB), who handles the Gutenberg.

[ETA: One additional note: On both coast, God has chosen a white male comedian. What would be the impact of this show if God inhabited, say, Rosie O’Donnell. Jamie Foxx. George Lopez. Margaret Cho. Would the impact be different, and why?]

God has a very simple set: a couch, some fancy stairs, a podium, and some projections, and loads of special lighting. These were created by creatives with God-given talent: Scott Pask – Scenic Design; David Zinn – Costume Design; Hugh Vanstone – Lighting Design; Fitz Patton – Sound Design; Adam Schlesinger – Music; Peter Nigrini – Projection Design; Paul Kieve – Illusion Consultant; Gregory Meeh – Special Effects. God was directed by Joe Mantello, as if God needs direction. Lora K. Powell served as Production Stage Manager, giving God his 30 minute notice. The production was entirely subsidized by Angels.

Seriously, go see this. You’ll really enjoy it. An Act of God continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through March 13th, and then it goes to San Francisco. God wants you to see this, and God wants you to pay full price and buy merchandise. Of course, if you are morally opposed to paying retail (and God knows who you are), there are discount tickets on Goldstar.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birides) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. 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 theatre continues tomorrow night with The Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The following weekend brings the Southern California premiere of the musical Dogfight at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim Hills.  The third weekend in February is currently open, but that is likely to change. February closes with The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March starts with “Man Covets Bird” at the 24th Street Theatre (FB) on March 6 (the day after the MRJ Man of the Year dinner) The second weekend of March is open, thanks to the cancellation of “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.  The last weekend of March is being held for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix).  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2. It will also bring the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) , and our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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An Unexpected Love

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 27, 2015 @ 11:26 am PDT

The Bridges of Madison County (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonIt is rare that I am surprised by a show. For most shows, going in, I’ve heard the score, read the synopses, and seen a few reviews. For The Bridges of Madison County (FB) at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [which we saw last night], however, I was pleasantly surprised. Going in, I had never seen the movie or read the book upon which this was based. Going in I had heard the music — but this is a show where the music alone does not convey the story. Had I read the synopsis? Perhaps, but I certainly didn’t remember it. I had seen that the show had good — and locally, some great — reviews. But in my eyes, this was a romance. For some treason, it was stuck in my head as being another The Light in the Piazza: a romantic chick-theatre outing that wouldn’t particularly excite me.

I was wrong, and I admit it. This show got me hooked into the story. It was beautifully crafted, beautifully performed, and beautifully executed. It was a show where the score — which hadn’t particularly stuck with me before (I preferred the score to JRB‘s Honeymoon in Vegas) — resonated more deeply now that I was able to connect it the story. I truly enjoyed this show. It is one of those special shows where the sum of the parts: the performances, the story, the technical, and the score come together to hook you in a way any individual piece might not.

The story itself is a romance. I’m not a big lover of romances; being an engineer, that’s something that’s not really in my nature. As I said above, I had never read the original novel by Robert James Waller (FB). I had also never seen the Oscar-nominated movie with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. I hadn’t even read the synopsis with the CD. Perhaps you haven’t either. So here’s the elevator version of the story (you can find a more detailed synopsis on the show’s Wikipedia page): Francesca is a war-bridge, who moved to Madison County, Iowa with her soldier husband, Bud, after the war. Eighteen years later they are still together, with two teenage children (Michael and Carolyn), who are about to head off to Indianapolis IN for the State Fair with their father. Francesca stays home expecting a few days of peace, quiet, rest, and relaxation. A National Geographic photographer, Robert, comes by the farm looking for directions to a particular covered bridge in the county. Francesca directs him to the bridge, and shortly they find themselves falling for each other. Robert fulfills a need she had forgotten in herself; he listens and cares about her as her, in a way her husband doesn’t. Observing this all are her neighbors, Charlie and Marge.  The two lovers grow closer, but all to soon the family is returning home, and the photographs have been taken. Robert goes off, hoping that Francesca will one day contact him. The family returns, and Francesca is soon drawn back into world of family and the love of family. She comes to realize that while the romance was a beautiful fantasy, the reality of family is strong… but she is haunted by the “what if?”. I’ll leave the epilogue to the epilogue.

For the stage, the original book by Waller (FB) was adapted by Marsha Norman (FB) [who did the book for The Color Purple and The Secret Garden], and augmented by the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown (FB). An interview in the program with Norman notes that, while the book tells the story from Robert’s point of view, the musical focuses on Francesca’s point of view. It points out that this is one of the few shows that actually has a book by a female playwright, and she describes a picture of the Broadway production’s Francesca, Kelli O’Hara (FB), holding a picture with a wonderful quote: “I need stories by women on stage because my daughter will hear the echo of their voices.” This was a point echoed in the Broadway Bullet, Episode 608 podcast, which was specifically focused on women’s voices and diversity in the theatre (and it dovetails with my diversity post). I’m not sure that I could particularly detect the women’s voice in the story vs. what it might have been with a man’s voice, except perhaps in the gentleness, the memory, and the ongoing battle between passion and family.

Overall, I found the story strangely compelling. It wasn’t the sappy romance I had gone in expecting. The situations and the performances combined to create a world and characters that you quickly grew to care about.

The music was pure Jason Robert Brown (FB) [JRB]. The music reminded me most of his romantic work in The Last 5 Years and the power of Parade, as opposed to the more rockish scores of 13 or Honeymoon in Vegas. There were some wonderful moments that moved into the country and bluegrass side; a style of music which I love. I found that the show made me appreciate the score and cast album more. I particularly liked the energy of “State Route 21”, and the gentle piano background of “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”.  I also found Marian’s number, “Another Life”, quite touching. The Los Angeles audience was also treated to having Brown as the conductor of the orchestra, not the normal tour conductor (Keith Levenson (FB)). Brown also had the luxury of a good size locally-based orchestra: Caleb Hoyer (FB) (Associate Conductor) on Piano; Michelle Maruyama (FB) (Concertmaster) on Violin; Daniel Erben/FB and Justin Rothberg (FB) on Guitars; Sharon Jackson (FB) on 2nd Violin; Pam Jacobson (FB) and Adriana Zoppo (FB) on Viola and Violin; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick on Cello; Ian Walker (FB) on Bass; and Ed Smith (FB) on Drums and Percussion. Michael Keller (FB) and Michael Aarons (FB) were the music coordinators, and Robert Payne and Dan Savant were the music contractors. Keith Levenson (FB) was the Music Director. Tom Murray (FB) was the Music Supervisor. Jason Robert Brown (FB) did the Orchestrations.

Before I go into the performance, let’s explore the dance. There was none. OK, being serious, there was no choreographer credit, only the broader Movement, credited to Danny Mefford (FB). There is, however, a dance captain in the person of Lucy Horton (FB). The translation of this is that there was none of the gratuitous dancing that you’ll find in other Broadway shows (if you recall, I complained about the gratuitous dancing in the background of last week’s If / Then ). There were one or two dance moments: Robert and Francesca in the kitchen; some brief dancing at the State Fair. But more of the dance was really movement — I might even call it a ballet — of the ensemble members moving the set pieces on and off set. The manner of gentle movement of those pieces were a dance, and were as much part of the story as any kickstep or waltz.

The performances were under the principal direction of Bartlett Sher (FB), who did the Broadway direction, and Tyne Rafaeli (FB), who was the tour director. In a broad sense, if I had to describe the direction, it would be “gentle”. The directoral team allows the performances and story to be front and center, and devised a way for the flashback scenes to be effectively presented.  The only thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why he had ensemble members sitting on the stage just watching the action.

In the lead performance positions were Elizabeth Stanley (FB) as Francesca and Andrew Samonsky (FB) as Robert. I’ll note that Stanley was recently a guest on the wonderful Theater People (FB) podcast. Stanley’s performance was great. Looking nothing like her picture in the program or her website, she just came across as real. She had a lovely voice, and her singing style in this show was so different than in so many other shows. Just beautiful. I also particularly appreciated the little touches she added — facial expressions, little touches here and there such as straightening the hair of her daughter. Opposite her, Samonsky had an easygoing style and a lovely voice that was remarkably appealing. I think the chemistry and interplay between these two are a major reason for the impact of this tour.

In the next tier, we have the remainder of Francesca’s family: Cullen R. Titmas (FB) as Bud, Caitlin Houlahan (FB) as Carolyn, and Dave Thomas Brown (FB) as Michael. Here I was particularly taken with the spunkiness and energy of Houlahan’s performance; she was just fun to watch. Titmas was also quite strong as Bud — he did a great job of conveying the love he had for his family and his wife. Titmas was also very strong in “It All Fades Away”, and the whole family was strong in “Home Before You Know It”.

Also in this tier were the neighbors, Mary Callanan (FB) as Marge and David Hess (FB) as Charlie.  These were smaller roles, but both Callanan and Hess brought something special to them. Calanan was particularly strong in “Get Closer”, and Hess in “When I’m Gone”.

Rounding out the cast were the one-scene characters and ensemble members: Katie Klaus [Marian, Chiara, State Fair Singer]; Cole Burden (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Robert]; Caitlyn Caughell (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Carolyn, u/s Marian / Chiara / State Fair Singer]; Brad Greer (FB) [Ensemble, Paolo, u/s Robert, u/s Michael]; Amy Linden (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Carolyn, u/s Marian /  Chiara / State Fair Singer]; Trista Moldovan (FB) [Ensemble; u/s Francesca, u/s Marge]; Jessica Sheridan (FB) [Ensemble; u/s Marge]; Matt Stokes (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Bud, u/s Charlie]; and Tom Treadwell (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Bud, u/s Charlie). Swings were Lucy Horton (FB) [Dance Captain; u/s Francesca] and Bryan Welnicki [u/s Michael]. The player board indicated that Welnicki was performing at our performance, but there was no substitution announcement and no indication of which ensemble member was not there. Particularly noteworthy here was Klaus — she just was perfection on both “Another Life” and “State Route 21”. There was also an ensemble member that kept drawing my eye, but alas I do not know here name: all I can recall is that in the “State Route 21” number, she was in boots and a shortish skirt, and I want to say blonde, so based on pictures along, I’d guess Jessica.

Finally, let’s turn to the production team and other creatives. The scenic design by Michael Yeargan, with additional set and adaptation by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams (FB) was simple and effective. There were a few fly-down components that evoked location — the edge of a roof, a sign here or there. But most of the pieces were set pieces on wheels moved in and out by the cast members. They worked remarkably well, and became the dance component of the overall production. The kitchen set was particularly nice. This combined with the excellent lighting design of Donald Holder to create a particularly strong unified picture. I particularly appreciated the lit backdrops/projections that worked wonderfully to establish the sense of overall place and mood. The costume design by Catherine Zuber combined with the hair and wigs of David Brian Brown (FB) to create a very good picture of the characters (he also did the wigs for If / Then). I particular admired the costuming and wigs used for Francesca — these made the character look completely different from the actress. The sound design of Jon Weston was clear and unobtrusive. Stephen Gabis was the dialect coach, and (at least to my ears) Francesca sounded Italian — so he must have done something right. Rounding out the production team were: The Booking Group (FB) [Tour Booking]; Telsey+Company (FB) [Casting]; Type A Marketing (FB) [Marketing and Press]; Melissa Chacón (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Joshua Pilote (FB) [Stage Manager]; Norah Scheinman (FB) [Assistant Stage Manager]; and Ryan Parliment [Company Manager]. There were numerous producers; notable members of the producers team were Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Ken Davenport (FB) [who does an excellent blog and podcast called The Producers Perspective]; Independent Presenters Network [meaning that the LORT theatres on the tour helped get the show off the ground], and Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures (FB) [meaning that the movie team invested in the musical].

The Bridges of Madison County – The Musical (FB) continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through January 17, 2016. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; Hottix may be available by calling 213.628.2772. Discount tickets are also available on Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing; I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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

Upcoming Shows: This was our penultimate show for 2015. Our last show is later today: Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). After the writeup for that show is posted, expect a “year in review” writeup. The new year, 2016, starts with “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) on January 2nd. This is followed by “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) on January 16; “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB)  on January 24; and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start.  However, given there has been no announcement, I feel safe booking all weekends in January  (I’ll note that if there is no REP season, I’ll likely subscribe at Group Rep — call it the Law of Conservation of REP). February starts with a hold date for “An Act of God” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). The rest of the February schedule is empty except for February 28, when we are seeing The Band of the Royal Marines and the Pipes, Drums, and Highland Dancers of the Scots Guards at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). March brings “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and has two potential dates on hold for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) (pending Hottix). I expect to be filling out February as December goes on.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.


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Sometimes You Have To Be A Little Bit Naughty

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 05, 2015 @ 1:12 pm PDT

Matilda the Musical (Ahmanson)userpic=ahmansonSupposed I told you that I had just seen a musical about a girl who had been bullied all her life, and who had decided to get revenge — in particular, psycho-kinetic revenge — upon those who had bullied her? You probably would have thought I had just been to see Carrie: The Musical. Well, I have seen Carrie, but  it currently isn’t open in LA, and won’t be returning until October 1st. Rather, I was talking about Matilda: The Musical (Tour) (FB), the musical we saw last evening at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). It was a wonderful performance and I recommend the show highly to everyone, not just because it is a fun and well-performed show, but because of the conversation that is changing because of shows like Matilda and Carrie.

There is one major message in Matilda, and it is a message that the musical (with a book by Dennis Kelly and Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin (FB) based on the novel by Roald Dahl (FB)) relentlessly beats into your head:

If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Won’t change a thing.
Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it’s OK.
And that’s not right.
And if it’s not right, you have to put it right.

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

The message is a strong anti-bullying message: a message that you can’t let people bully you, and that it is up to you to change your story — that is it up to you to put it right. It is in this message that there is a parallel to the story of Carrie White; it is in this message that (I believe) is the reason that Matilda has stuck such a chord in the hearts of adults and children alike. The message is a simple but strong one: stand up to bullies — you have the strength and obligation to do so. It is a message that is very important these days, as we’re seeing those who have been bullied exact all sorts of revenge on those who bullied them (it seems a common theme in school shootings). If we can stop bullying as it begins, our children will be much better off.  Matilda puts it in a much more palatable fashion than Carrie. In Matilda, nobody dies and the bullies just give in and go away, vs Carrie where almost everyone dies. Matilda succeeds because it is the happy ending that we want; Carrie is the ending that we get far too often.

It is unclear how much of the audience consciously connected with this message and this parallel. To most of them, this was an entertaining story about a little girl with bad parents and a mean headmistress who beats the adults and ends up happy. Who doesn’t love happy endings? Who doesn’t enjoy being a little bit naughty? But children love Roald Dahl’s stories because of the deeper message — for example, what Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teaches about the various vices and virtues. This story, through humor, also teaches a valuable message about the value of self, and the value and importance of standing up for one’s self. It teaches that you need to write your own story, and not let others dictate it.

I just realized I’ve been blathering on about the story without providing you a short synopsis. After all, you might never have read the novel; you might not have seen the wonderful 1996 movie with Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman, and Mara Wilson. As opposed to trying to detail it all here, I’ll point you to the Wikipedia page. The “TL;DR” version is: Matilda is a precocious and intelligent little girl born to parents who didn’t want her, and who value stupidity and the messages that TV teaches over reason. Unable to control her (Matilda loves to play pranks on her parents), then enroll her in a school run by an evil headmistress who delights in torturing children. One teacher sees Matilda’s value, and working together they fight the headmistress, and return the school to a place of love and learning. Oh, and Matilda gets a happy ending as well.

In adapting this story to the stage, the authors imbued it with an additional message that was not the novel or the movie — a message that is a commentary on parents today. In the opening scenes, there is a birthday party where every parent is talking about how their child is a precious little miracle and something special. This, of course, creates a contrast with Matilda’s parents who see her not as a miracle and as something not special. The point that is being made is that if everyone is special, then no one is. Special becomes the norm, and the truly special become invisible. The reality must be that we, as parents, must not predefine our children with labels, but must encourage them to grow up and be whatever they are destined to be (and be the best at that).

As you have probably guessed by now, I liked the story of Matilda and its message. I think it is a strong one that needs to be learned. The related question is: how well did the playwright and composer adapt this message for the stage, and integrate it into the musical form. The answer is: reasonably well. I’ll go into performance, creatives, and technical in a minute, but story-wise I have a few quibbles. The first is the Act I ending, which I found too abrupt. You want Act I to end with a rousing number to get you talking during intermission and wanting to come back. Instead, you get Matilda alone on stage going “But That’s Not Right”. Other than that, I found the structuring of the story fun and well-paced, and I thought that the songs were more than just entertaining patter. In particular, the songs did a great job of illustrating the wants and motives of the characters; they illustrated and illuminated personalities and drives. This is what the songs in musicals should do.

Before I turn to the performers, I want to turn to the audience for a second. We saw the show on July 4th — an early evening show. There were lots of kids in the audience, as the show was heavily discounted (as it was on a holiday). There were kids that were enthralled by the show, and I can easily see how shows like this could turn kids into theatre lovers. My favorite point, however, was one point where two characters kissed somewhere near the end. At that precise moment, from the audience, comes a loud “Yuk!” from a little kid. Priceless.

The performances in Matilda were top rate. In a manner similar to Billy Elliott, the demands on the child in the lead role are so great that three are cast (in the case of Matilda, Gabby Gutierrez, Mia Sinclair Jenness (FB), and Mabel Tyler (FB)), and they alternate. At our performance, Mabel Tyler (FB) was Matilda, and she did a wonderful job with the role. For a child that small she had a great singing voice; she moved and danced well and brought a lot of energy to the stage. It was clear that she was just having the time of her life in the role, and that is something that always is telegraphed in a performance.

Her parents were performed by Quinn Mattfeld [Mr. Wormwood] and Cassie Silva (FB) [Mrs. Wormwood]. We’ve seen Ms. Silva before at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) [42nd Street and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers], and she was equally strong here. She was having fun with her role, and did a wonderful job on “Loud” and in her opening scene. Mattfeld was great as Mr. Wormwood, playing the role with loads of humor. This came across best in his second act opener, “Telly”.

Next there is the staff of Crunchem Hall, Matilda’s school: Miss Jenny Honey and Miss Abigail Trunchbull. Trunchbull was played to scenery-chewing perfection by Bryce Ryness (FB).  Ryness didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was a man playing a woman; he knows what and who is character is and how to work it. This is apparent from the first time you see him on stage with Miss Honey, and it continues in every appearance. He just delights in the character, and it comes across. Jennifer Blood (FB)’s Miss Honey, on the other hand, is meek sweetness and light, a gentle soul forced to find inner strength by a little girl who understands her story better than she does. She gives a great performance and has a wonderful singing voice that she uses on numbers such as “Pathetic”, “This Little Girl”, and “Quiet”.

In terms of the other named characters and the ensemble members, there are a few I would like to highlight. As Bruce Boxtrotter, Evan Gray seemed to be having great fun in both his signature cake-eating scene as well as his post Chokey scenes. Equally precocious was Kaci Walfall (FB) as Lavender in her opening bit after “Telly” at the top of Act II. Of the adults, I particularly enjoyed Ora Jones as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian. She brought a wonderful excitement to the role as Matilda was telling the story of the Acrobat and the Escape Artist. Lastly, I want to note Danny Tieger (FB) as Michael Wormwood:  his role was small, but I particularly enjoyed his well timed outbursts during “Telly”. Rounding out the cast in various smaller roles and as part of the ensemble (👦👧 indicates children) were: Jaquez Andre Sims (FB) [Party Entertainer, Rudolpho]; Ian Michael Stuart (FB) [Doctor, Sergei]; Justin Packard (FB) [The Escape Artist], Wesley Faucher (FB) [The Acrobat]; 👦 Cal Alexander [Nigel]; 👧 Kayla Amistad [Amanda]; 👦 Aristotle Rock [Eric]; 👧 Cassidy Hagel [Alice]; 👧 Megan McGuff [Hortensia]; 👦 Meliki Hurd (FB) [Tommy]; and the ensemble: Michael Fatica (FB), John Michael Fiumara (FB), Shonica Gooden (FB), Stephanie Martignetti (FB), and Darius Wright (FB). Swings were Cameron Burke (FB), 👧 Brittany ConigattiCamden Gonzalez (FB), Michael D. Jablonski (FB), 👦 Luke Kolbe Mannikus (FB), 👧 Serena Quadrata, and Natalie Wisdom (FB). One note on the ensemble: At times, the ensemble appears to play older kids. Given that the school only goes to 11 year olds, the apparent age of the old kids is a little off-putting. I can understand the demands of the characters, though, so I’ll suspend my disbelief.

Bringing this team together creatively was Matthew Warchus [Director], Thomas Caruso [Associate Director], Ryan Emmons [Resident Director], Peter Darling [Choreographer], Ellen Kane [Associate Choreographer – Worldwide], Kate Dunn [Associate Choreographer – U.S.], Andrew Wade [Voice Director], and Victoria Navarro [Production Stage Manager]. Michael D. Jablonski (FB) was the dance captain; Camden Gonzalez (FB) was the assistant dance captain and children’s dance captain; and Michael Fatica (FB) was the assistant dance/gym captain. I’ve noted before that I often have trouble telling where the director stops and the actor begins. That is certainly true here for the adults (and especially true for Ryness’ Trunchbull), but the director did a great job of bringing out the characters in each of the children. Dance and choreography was excellent, especially the movement up and down the set and the acrobatics.

Matilda was under the music direction of Matthew Smedal (FB), who also served as the conductor (and keyboard 2) of the Matilda orchestra. Chris Nightingale was the music supervisor and orchestrator; David Holcenberg was the associate music supervisor. Musicians included Bill Congdon (FB) [Keyboard 1, Children’s Music Director; Assistant Conductor], Joshua Priest [Percussion], Anna Stadlman (FB) [Bass], Sal Lozano [Woodwind 1], Jeff Driskill [Woodwind 2], Daniel Fornero (FB) [Trumpet 1], Rob Schaer [Trumpet 2], Robert Payne [Trombone / Contractor], Thom Rotella [Guitar], and David Mergen [Cello]. Other musical credits were: Phij Adams [Music Technology], Laurie Perkins [London Music Preparation], Emily Grishman [New York Music Copyist, Music Preparation], Katharine Edmonds [Music Preparation], Howard Joines [Music Coordinator]; and David Witham [Keyboard Sub]. In general, the music sounded good but didn’t have the oomph that a good show orchestra should have. There were also portions where it sounded like the children’s ensemble was pre-recorded, which was a bit off-putting.

Lastly, there is the technical side of things. Rob Howell‘s set and costume design imagined the stage as these colossal piles of blocks. I didn’t really like it when I saw it on the Tony Awards, but it worked really well on stage — especially during “School Song” where blocks were inserted into the walls providing the ability to climb. The costumes and wigs also worked well, particular those for Mrs. Wormwood, Mr. Wormwood, and Miss Trunchbull.  The illusions by Paul Kieve worked very well — particularly the chalk writing by itself on the blackboard. The sound design by Simon Baker worked reasonably well and wasn’t overpowering; the primary problem was distinguishing what the children were singing over the accents. This could be a problem with amplification on the kids, or it could be that the children’s ensemble was pre-recorded and muffled. There was also a point during “Quiet” where there was this odd echo from the orchestra area — I couldn’t tell whether it was intentional, or whether someone’s assisted listening device was malfunctioning and shouting to the world. The lighting design of Hugh Vanstone was particularly effective — there was one scene in the second act where the lighting suddenly changed to red and thunder was heard — sending a chill through me. Well played. The remaining production credits were:  Casting – Jim Carnahan C.S.A and Nora Brennan C.S.A (children); Production Management – Aurora Productions; Company Manager – R. Doug Rodgers; General Management – Dodger Management Group.

Matilda: The Musical (Tour) (FB) continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until July 12. Tickets are available online through the Ahmanson; midweek discounts are available through Goldstar. The tour is next in San Francisco — so my Bay Area peeps should look into tickets there at the Orpheum (it looks like Goldstar tickets have expired). It is a fun show well worth seeing.

Los Angeles’ 4th of July Block Party. As we transited to and from the theatre (we used LA Metro), we had a chance to visit the big 4th of July Block Party at Grand Park (FB). Security was tight, including searches and pat downs, but I can understand the city wanting to make things safe. We had to argue with a security guard as he thought my wife’s walking staff was a weapon; luckily, we got that overridden. We didn’t get to the food trucks — they didn’t have the greatest of layouts. We did, however, get to demonstrate being friendly natives — we directed a number of people regarding visiting our city. In general, it seemed to be a reasonably well run and organized event.

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

Upcoming Shows: July is a month of double-headers. Next weekend, our double-header July continues: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Ahmanson Theatre 2015-2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 09, 2015 @ 4:00 pm PDT

userpic=ahmansonThe Ahmanson Theatre has just announced its 2015-2016 season. As I did with the Pantages, Cabrillo, and the Colony, here are my thoughts on the season:

  • Thumbs Down The Sound of Music. September 20 through October 31, 2015. This is the start of a new American tour, but I have really no interest in seeing this again.
  • Thumbs Up The Bridges of Madison County. December 8, 2015, through January 17, 2016. This is a new musical by Jason Robert Brown, and guess what… he will be conducting the entire run!
  • Thumbs Up A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. March 22 through May 1, 2016. This musical won the Tony for best musical (last year, IIRC), and is a must see.
  • Thumbs Up Titanic: The Musical. May 14 through June 26, 2016. Note that this is not the musical version of the Leonard DiCapro movie that won awards; this is a musical from about the same time (1997) with book by Peter Stone and score by Maury Yeston.  I’ve heard the music, but never seen it.

There is an unnamed fifth production to run at an unspecified date.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesP.S.: Please remember, if you’re an AEA actor eligible to vote in the upcoming advisory vote on the 99 seat plan, please vote no. The 99 seat plan needs to be changed, but not in the way AEA is proposing. AEA’s proposal is bad for small theatre, bad for actors who are not exclusively live theatre (hint: it will likely lower your unemployment benefits), bad for the local economy, and bad for the audience. Voting YES means you want AEA’s plan as it is proposed; there is no guarantee they will fix it. Voting NO indicates you do not want their specific proposal, you want AEA to sit down with all stakeholders and craft a plan good for all. Visit ilove99.org for more information. Provide financial support to this effort through I Love 99’s Indiegogo page.

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How Quickly They Forget

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Nov 14, 2014 @ 11:50 am PDT

userpic=ahmansonThe LA Times today has a series of articles on the 50th anniversary of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. However, in their desire to glorify the past, they have made one glaring omission: They completely forgot about Edwin Lester and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.

Reading the articles gives the impression that the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion was the home of the Philharmonic, Opera, and Dance; all theatre was under the purview of the Center Theatre Group, and was at the Ahmanson and the Taper. That, of course, is completely false.

Wikipedia has a good page on the LACLO; so does Broadway LA at the Pantages and the Philharmonic Auditorium. LACLO, founded by Edwin Lester, started in 1938 and shared space with the Philharmonic at the Philharmonic Auditorium. When the Chander Pavillion was completed, the LACLO moved there with the Philharmonic. The LACLO pioneered the notion of a “tour” to the West Coast; often Broadway productions that did not tour to the West Coast would import the production for the LACLO with the original Broadway stars. LACLO also started a number of shows that either made it to Broadway, or attempted to make it to Broadway and failed. These included Song of Norway (1944), Magdalena (1948), Kismet (1953), Peter Pan (1954) and Gigi (1973). Among the aborted shows that I recall included a version of Gone with the Wind with Pernell Roberts, and “Sugar” with Robert Morse.

The LACLO is the reason I’m into theatre — my first live theatre was “The Rothschilds” at LACLO in 1972 with Hal Linden. My parents were LACLO subscribers, and they soon added me to their subscriptions. This is when I fell in love with the theatre.

LACLO operated in parallel with the Center Theatre Group; often CTG productions were bonus shows for LACLO. I recall this being the case for my favorite show, “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, which was my first show at the Ahmanson. In general, the LACLO did musicals; CTG did plays.

According to Wikipedia, during the 1950s and 1960s the LACLO was the most financially successful musical theatre subscription organization of its kind. However, in the 1970s the organization’s audience size began to decrease and by the 1980s the company was experiencing serious financial difficulties. The company’s last production was of John Kander’s Cabaret in 1987.  Wikipedia doesn’t note that what did the company in — beyond the quality of 1980s theatre — was the growth of alternate houses such as the Shubert (which opened in the mid 1970s) and the Pantages (which opened in the early 1980s).

The Broadway LA folks (who claim to be the successors to the LACLO) note that in 1981, the Nederlander Organization bailed out the financially-ailing Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. In their words: “While many of these productions continued to light up the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles County Music Center, as available windows for booking shows at those venues became smaller and smaller, the Nederlanders eventually opted to utilize the Pantages to house the LACLO season of shows.” The translation: Once the Nederlanders got control, they slowly moved more and more productions to the houses they controlled (and of course, never to the Shubert theatre in Century City).  And thus, the LACLO faded from view at the Music Center, to be replaced by Nederlander tours at the Pantages. All that was left was the mailing list.

[Edited to Add: Over on Facebook, Ron Bruguiere provided some additional clarification to the above, noting: “In your blog, you neglect to mention Feuer and Martin. They took over CLO from Edwin Lester in 1976, lasting until 1980. The subscribers were extremely unhappy in 1977 with Liza Minnelli in “Shine It On” which when it opened in NYC, was known as “The Act.”  1981 is when the Nederlander organization begin producing the CLO productions, and the blue-haired ladies let it be known that there was too much blood in “Sweeney Todd,” the subscribers were very displeased, and subscriptions fell off. By 1987, when CLO closed, the subscriber base was greatly diminished.”]

Still, any look back at the contributions of the Music Center must acknowledge the LACLO. For many many years, the LACLO was the outlet for musical theatre in LA — even after CTG started. It wasn’t until the death of Lester and the Nederlanders taking over the remains of the LACLO that the Ahmanson became a musical house.

As we look back on 50 years of the Dorothy Chandler, let’s remember the days when musical theatre could fill a 3,150 seat house that actually had great accoustics as well as glamour. Let’s remember the contributions of Edwin Lester and the LA Civic Light Opera.


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