Observations Along the Road

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

Magic at the Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 20, 2009 @ 6:12 pm PDT

This afternoon, we went to see “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson Theatre. It was a magical production, with stagecraft that was miraculous, spectacular effects (including Bert dancing on the top of the proscenium arch, upside down), highly energetic music, wonderful dancing, and great performances. So where to begin in my review…

Let’s start with the story and the music. Mary Poppins, as we all know, started life as a series of books by P. L. Travers. Disney optioned those books, chose a few of the stories, and made it into the 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, featuring music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman. Those who have read stories about that production know that the heart of the movie’s story was the bird woman, but for most, the focus is on Mary Poppins. George and Winifred Banks are mostly incidental comic relief (in fact, P. L. Travers never liked the suffragette angle that Disney introduced). For the musical version, the book author (Julian Fellowes) went back to the original books and drew in some characters not in the movie; he kept most (but not all) of the Sherman songs (notably, “I Love To Laugh” is not in the musical), rearranged them to form a new coherent story, and then extended some songs and added new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (as I recall, various contractual things prohibited the Sherman Brothers from adding additional material).

The new story focuses much more on George and Winifred — not that they have a lot of action, but the focus is on the transformation of the entire family. The story has resonance for today’s time: dealing with layoffs from work, dealing with decisions made with respect to the pursuit of money, dealing with finding out what is important. But don’t think this has become an adult story. Far from it: Fellowes retained the charm of the original, and except for the opening scene of Act II, the play is remarkably light and fast paced. The energy of the song and dances helps quite a bit with that.

The staging of the play is remarkable. People appear out of nowhere, and you can’t see how they did the scenic transformations. The set design is amazing, both in how pieces fit together and work together. More importantly, there is magic on the stage. They do Mary’s carpetbag of magic holding trick, and I can’t see how it was done. Other things pop in and out, and all I can think of is that Disney has a talent for distracting the eye while they create the magic. In the second act, they even have a scene where Bert dances up the wall, across the top of the proscenium arch (upside down), and then down the other wall. Yes, you can see the rigging, but that just gets him up: it doesn’t turn him upside down and let him tap. That’s the talent. That’s the magic. I was amazed.

The cast for this is no slouch. The main leads were imported from the London cast and originated the roles, and were spit-spot perfect: Ashley Brown as Mary Poppins, and Gavin Lee as Bert. The remainder of the cast were equally strong: Karl Kenzler (George Banks), Megan Osterhaus (Winifred Banks), Jane Carr (Mrs. Brill), Ellen Harvey (Miss Andrew, Queen Victoria, Miss Smythe), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Robertson Ay), Mary Vanarsdel (Bird Woman), Mike O’Carroll (Admiral Boom/Chairman), Katie Balen (Jane Banks), Carter Thomas (Michael Banks), Brian Letendre (Neleus), and filling out the ensemble and various other roles: Michael Gerhart, Dominic Roberts, Nick Sanchez, Q. Smith, Tom Souhrada, Tia Altinay, Carol Angeli, Gail Bennett, Kiara Bennett, Brandon Bieber, Troy Edward Bowles, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Geoffrey Goldberg, Emily Harvey, Eric Hatch, Tiffany Howard, Kelly Jacobs, Sam Kiernan, Laird Mackintosh, Vanessa McMahan, Koh Mochizuki, Shlia Potter, and Jesse Swimm. I can’t really single out people, because this was a well-oiled ensemble that worked very strongly together.

The production was directed by Richard Eyre assisted by Matthew Bourne, who did a wonderful job of keeping and mantaining a lot of energy. Choreography was by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear (assisted by Geoffrey Garratt), and was spectacular (especially in the “Step in Time” number, as well as numerous other ones). The amazing scenic and costume design was by Bob Crowley, assisted by Rosalind Coombes and Matt Kinley. Technical direction was by David Benkin. Sound design was by Steve Canyon Kennedy, with a remarkable lighting design by Howard Harrison (I should note the production made heavy use of moving lights and some remarkable projection effects). Makeup was by Naomi Donne. The excellent orchestrations were by William David Brohn, with music supervision by David Caddick and musical direction by James Dodgson, working with a mostly local orchestra. The production was produced by Disney Theatricals and Cameron Mackintosh.

Upcoming Theatre: Today was our last scheduled theatre production in 2009. I hope you have enjoyed the 2009 reviews that I wrote. We’ll be going to at least one movie over Christmas, so look for a review of that. Turning to 2010, January 2010 will bring another episode of Meeting of Minds on 1/17 (currently unticketed), as well as “Lost in Yonkers” at Rep East (starting 1/22, currently unticketed). Another interesting show, although we would have to make a weekend of it, is Duncan Sheik’s “Whisper House at The Old Globe in San Diego, running January 13 through February 21. February 2010 will also bring “The Andrews Brothers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 13. Lastly, February will also bring “Camelot” at the Pasadena Playhouse (although they haven’t sent out the dates yet), with Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” in March 2010.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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Pardon Me, Miss Kate, But Is That The Moon I See?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 06, 2009 @ 8:03 pm PDT

Yes, I’m in Hawaii. But we did attend theatre last night, and the urge to review is upon me, so a quick one. Last night we saw the Van Nuys High School production of “Taming of the Shew”. You all know the story I’m sure: perhaps you saw “Kiss Me Kate“, perhaps you saw Shakespeare in the Park, or you forever remember the “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of Moonlighting. Of course, Elizabethan sets being difficult for a high school to come by, Van Nuys decided to set the store in the old West and costume the actors appropriately… but not change any of Shakespeare’s dialogue.

This was a high school production. As such, the acting capabilities were not always well honed. Some of the leads acted and emoted quite well, but still spoke their lines almost too fast to be heard. The actors that stood out in my mind were Dominic Gessel as Petruchio and Sandra Duran as Katherina — they tended to speak a bit fast, but I did enjoy their acting. I also enjoyed Quest Zeidler as Gremio — one of the few that spoke sufficiently slow to be understood. Others in the cast, for whom I’m not remembering specific comments with my Hawaii-befuddled brain, were Thomas O’Hara (Lucentio), Kiran Sangnera (Bianca), Sevan Ghadimian (Baptista Minola), Jordan Strokes (Tranio), John Armstrong (Hortensio), Michael Hill (Grumio), Sameer Nayak (Biondello), Gregory Harutyunyan (Vincentio), Megan Lovato (Widow), Alex Geronilla (Tailor/Sheriff), Ashley Portillo (Haberdasher), Arman Zardaryan (Curtin), Bronte Cox (Petra), Jade Field (Natalie), Taylor Morris (Josephina), Suad Turjman (Servant), James Sakburanaphat (Bartender), Laurel Anderson (Saloon Girl #A), Denisse Rodriguez (Saloon Girl #2), Aikiro Tiogson (Bar Brawler #2), Glory Smith (Saloon Girl #3), Andrew Koenig (Bar Brawler #3/Pedant), Priscilla Legaspi (Saloon Girl #4), and Jonathan Martinez (Bar Brawler #4).

One thing I did like about the show was the musical accompaniment. This band was quite good. It consisted of Janathan Reader (Bass), Cesar Alas (Guitar), Jung Lee (Violin), Iris Mayoral (Violin), Lisa Miller (Violin), and Michael Han (Washboard).

Of course, I don’t go to these shows for the drama, but for the technical. My daughter, Erin, did the conventional lights, and I thought they were quite good with nary a moving spot and a nice use of lighting for the moon and the sun. The moving lights run by Cody Banks and Joshua Price were used mainly for strobe effects, to illuminate the band, and for the curtain calls. Sound (by Chris Chesler, Emily Tugwell, and Niko Reeves) was reasonably good the night we were there, although I understand there were some mic problems. The dramatic stage managers were Sean Present, Manmit Singh, and Sayuri Pacheco; the technical stage manager was Anthony Flores. Patty Ponce was the spot light operator.

Upcoming Theatre: One more production remains in 2009, unless I review Wednesday’s luau: December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. Turning to 2010, January 2010 will bring another episode of Meeting of Minds on 1/17 (currently unticketed), as well as “Lost in Yonkers” at Rep East (starting 1/22, currently unticketed). Another interesting show, although we would have to make a weekend of it, is Duncan Sheik’s “Whisper House at The Old Globe in San Diego, running January 13 through February 21. February 2010 will also bring “The Andrews Brothers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 13. Lastly, February will also bring “Camelot” at the Pasadena Playhouse (although they haven’t sent out the dates yet), with Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” in March 2010.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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Powering Up The Jukebox Again

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 29, 2009 @ 10:37 am PDT

Last night, we went to see “Baby, It’s You” at the Pasadena Playhouse. This was a week earlier than our normal date, because next week around this time I’ll be on an airplane to Hawaii for ACSAC. Unfortunately, this play didn’t leave me with as warm as a feeling as I’m sure the islands will bring.

Baby, It’s You” is a musical retelling of the story of Florence Greenberg, the Shirelles, and Scepter Records. The story itself is potentially interesting: bored New Jersey housewife discovers a girl singing group, goes into the record business, and founds a (for a time) successful label. The story has its ups and downs, including an interracial romance of a married woman in a time where neither were acceptable. The music of the period is fun and bubbly, and there is plenty of opportunity to mine the current waves of nostalgia for the music of the early sixties. So why did this leave me lukewarm? There were a number of reasons.

First, this came across as a jukebox musical with a story tacked on. As a jukebox musical, it was poor: often songs were just snippets, and came fasts and furious with nary a breath between. But the bigger musical problem was outside the musical’s control: there have been too many of this type of musical of late. The best comparison music-wise is The Marvelous Wonderettes, long playing in North Hollywood and just closed in New York, but other musicals such as Life Could Be A Dream, Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and others keep mining the same songs, over and over. As certain songs kept coming up, I kept thinking of the Wonderette’s characterization, and this isn’t a good thing because Wonderette’s was so much better and memorable.

As for the story itself, it was potentially interesting (although again, the stories of the songwriters have been hit-and-miss — witness the problems with Leader of the Pack). However, a read through the real history of Scepter, makes it clear that numerous liberties were taken with the facts of the story. The interesting part of the story (the interracial romance) was played up and then down, and the story couldn’t seem to find the character arc it was supposed to make. Here the music didn’t help: there were points in the story that cried out for musicalization to capture the character’s feelings that dialogue just couldn’t do… but the authors depended on the jukebox songs to do this. They didn’t work. This musical needed to say true to the story, find the character’s arc, and tell that arc with some original songs specific to the story (hell, they probably could have gotten original Scepter writers Burt Bacharach and Hal David to pen it: they are still around, and they’ve written for Broadway before). There were also characters that showed up, disappeared, and the reappeared later with little explanation. In short: the book needed work, and the musicalization of the story needed separation from the jukebox aspect.

The book authors (Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux) attempted to frame the story through the use of the narrator, Jocko, representing one of the original DJs who worked closely with Scepter. This provided the story, but was ultimately distracting as the actor playing the DJ played a large number of other roles, depending solely on costume changes to allow us to see the different characters. This was also true of a number of other characters (except for the two main leads): they kept popping in and out as different characters, and it was difficult to tell them apart, as well as to identify which groups were actually Scepter groups and which were not. It just served to muddle and confuse the story.

Other than the book problems, the presentation was quite enjoyable and the actors were wonderful. All were strong singers and dancers and a joy to watch. Meeghan Holaway, who we’ve seen recently as Marie Antoinette in Meeting of Minds, played Florence Greenberg with strong acting skills and a surprising singing voice. Her Scepter partner, Luther Dixon, was played by Allan Louis: again, a strong singer and actor with a lovely voice. Marvin Schlacter, Scepter’s publicity man, was played by Matt McKenzie: he had fewer singing opportunities, but was a fun actor to watch.

The remaining actors all played multiple roles: Geno Henderson was remarkable as Jocko and almost every male black singer, including Ron Isley, Chuck Jackson, and Gene Chandler. His performance alone made the show worth it. The Shirelles were played by Erica Ash (Micki), Berlando Drake (Shirley), Paulette Ivory (Beverly), and Crystal Starr Knighton (Doris), but these actresses also played other black female singers of the era, notably Ivory as Dionne Warwick. All were strong singers and dancers, but the books really never established them as more than that–we never got to see them as distinct characters, and as such, we only got glimpses of their acting. Barry Pearl, who we saw recently in Guys and Dolls at CMT, played Florence’s long suffering husband Bernie as well as the Decca Record’s executive Milt Gabler. Adam Irizarry played Florence’s son Stanley, as well as other white singers such as Burt Bacharach. Lastly, Suzanne Petrela (who we’ve seen in a number of productions including Mask and Is He Dead) played Florence’s daughter Mary Jane, as well as white female singers such as Lesley Gore. As I’ve said before: all were strong singers and fun to watch, but their acting skills were underused by the poor book.

The set, which was designed by Anna Louizos, depended heavily on LED projection screens to establish locale. There was a fixed DJ booth on one side, a fixed club entrance on the other, and the center was dominated by the screens, the center stage for action, and the onstage band behind a scrim that was also used for projections. The projections (designed by Jason H. Thompson) were effective in establishing locations, but at times were a bit busy and came across as pre-recorded. The lighting design by Howell Binkley depended heavily on moving lights (there were 7 on-stage, 4 in front of the stage, and 2 to the side), scrollers and conventionals–which was reasonable for the notion of concerts, but perhaps inappropriate for the era of the story. The costumes by Lizz Wolf, with wigs and hair by Carol Doran assisted by Byron J. Batista, worked well in capturing the period and style. The sound design by Martin Carrillo was mostly unnoticable (as it should be), although at times the music and narration sounded recorded (a poor thing).

Music supervision and arrangements were by Richard Perry with co-musical direction by Adam Irizarry, who in addition to acting and singing also led the on-stage 10-piece band (which had great sound). Choreography was by Birgitte Mutrix and was typical girl-group movement. The production was directed by Floyd Mutrux, assisted by Bari Newport. The production stage manager was Ronn Goswick, who we remember from his years with Valley Musical Theatre, assisted by Playhouse long-timer Lea Chazin. Although I don’t normally mention producers, it is interesting to note the big names behind this production: Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and Universal Music Group, and American Pop Anthology.

Baby, It’s You has been extended at the Pasadena Playhouse until December 20th. Tickets are available through the Playhouse, and you can often find them on Goldstar.

A side note: Funny who you run into when you go to the theatre. Sitting in the same aisle with us last night were Dan Lauria, Diana Ljungaeus, and Bob Ladendorf — the producers of the Meeting of Minds revival who were there supporting Meeghan Holaway, their Marie Antoinette. We took a minute to thank them for bringing back MofM, as well as discussing some of the upcoming productions of the show. They really want to get MofM into colleges, which would be a great thing.

Upcoming Theatre: We’re coming down to the end of 2009, with just a few productions left. Next week brings us to Van Nuys HS for “The Taming of the Shrew” (12/3, 12/4, and 12/5; we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance). I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5, returning 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. Turning to 2010, January 2010 will bring another episode of Meeting of Minds on 1/17 (currently unticketed), as well as “Lost in Yonkers” at Rep East (starting 1/22, currently unticketed). Another interesting show, although we would have to make a weekend of it, is Duncan Sheik’s “Whisper House at The Old Globe in San Diego, running January 13 through February 21. February 2010 will also bring “The Andrews Brothers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 13. Lastly, sometime in January will be “Camelot” at the Pasadena Playhouse (although they haven’t sent out the dates yet), with Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” in February 2010.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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Welcome to Another Meeting of Minds

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 24, 2009 @ 6:48 pm PDT

As I wrote yesterday, we saw two productions on Sunday. The first was “M*A*S*H” at Repertory East Playhouse. The second, which is the subject of this review, was the latest installment of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds at the Steve Allen Theatre. This month we had Episode #7, and our guests were:

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)….. Ernie Hudson
Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794)…. Joe Mantegna
Empress Tz’u-Hsi (1835-1908)…. France Nuyen
Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)…. Richard Gilliland
Steve Allen (1921-2000)…. Gary Cole

The script was updated slightly from the original 1979 script, including references to the health care debate and President Obama. The person who was given credit for suggesting the Marquis de Sade was changed from Claire Boothe Luce to Rush Limbaugh. Even without updating, some interchanges were truly applicable today:

STEVE: Why do you think, Signor Beccaria, that progress in this area has been so painfully slow?
DOUGLASS: Progress, my friend, is always slow.
BECCARIA: Yes. It seems to me that the intellectual enlightenment of a nation is usually about a century in advance of its actual practice.
DOUGLASS: Again and again through history we see precisely this same process. The brighter, more civilized individuals in a culture begin to perceive that something is wrong, about a specific custom. They very tentatively, carefully–even fearfully–begin to question that custom.
BECCARIA: (He nods) Perhaps–as I did–they publish their writings anonymously, out of fear of vicious reprisal. A quite justified fear, may I add.
     Then, at a second stage, one man’s modest gesture encourages another, so that gradually there emerges a body of opinion–at least among certain intellectuals, scholars, and reformers–that more outspokenly criticizes the prevailing custom, whatever it might be, whether we are talking about slavery, burning people alive, or whatever.
DOUGLASS: But generally at this stage a backlash takes place. A great conservative groundswell attacks the reformers, questioning not only their arguments but their intelligence, even their loyalty.
     If their arguments prove difficult to assail, then they personally are attacked, sometimes even physically.
STEVE: But many people ask: why not? Such disturbers of the peace–they argue–deserve to be punished!
DOUGLASS: It is not the peace they disturb, Mr. Allen; it is the status quo. But this reactionary backlash in turn stimulates its own opposition–generally because of its unfairness and cruelty–and this, in turn, encourages a still small but now growing number of people who perceive that their society does indeed need to be additionally civilized. And so this slow, glacial process occurs–sometimes speeded by revolution, sometimes not.
     That is why necessary progress is usually made so painfully slowly.

Now, this discussion was relating to the stopping of torture for minor crimes, but applies equally well to health care or the gay marriage debate. It is why these program as so timeless: the thoughts and philosophies are as timeless today as when conceived by the speakers, or when written as a script by Steve Allen.

The Episode #7 discussion was a bit more focused than most, exploring the history of the speakers as well as the notions of torture and its appropriateness, and how free man should be to inflict pain and cruelty on other man. Is it something, as deSade argued, that should be freely permitted with consent, or is it something that goes against general moral law, as Beccaria argued? It is right to kill or torture because you disagree with someone or see them as barbaric, as the Empress believed? Is it right to subjugate and exploit people for financial gain, as was done with slaves, and as the western societies tried to do in China? This was the topic of discussion.

Viewing the production as theatre, there were strengths and weaknesses. As usual, Gary Cole was obviously reading the script cold, as he had a lot of line stumbles. France Nuyen conveyed her character well, but spoke a bit softly, requiring the sound engineer to have to raise her amplification noticably. Erine Hudson was a forceful but calm Douglass, improving as the episode went on. Richard Gilliland gave a stunning and playful performance as de Sade, and was quite entertaining to watch (especially in his interplay with Joe Mantegna as Beccaria). As always, the production was directed by Frank Megna.

Dan Lauria, who bears an uncanny resemblance to President U.S. Grant, introduced the program, and reminded attendees of the goal of bringing this program to college campuses. He noted the well-known Hollywood actors who have already participated in the program (such as Ed Asner as Karl Marx), and the ones who will be in upcoming episodes, such as Keith Carradine as Pres. Thos. Jefferson or Lou Diamond Phillips as Emiliano Zapata. It was nice to see Mr. Lauria back doing the introductions.

“Meeting of Minds” is now produced approximately monthly by Opening Minds Productions. They will be starting a regular schedule in 2010: Meeting of Minds will be the third Sunday of every month at 7:00pm at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, starting January 17, 2010.

Upcoming Theatre: Thanksgiving weekend sees us back at the Pasadena Playhouse for “Baby Its You” on November 28. The next week brings us to Van Nuys HS for “The Taming of the Shrew” (12/3, 12/4, and 12/5; we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance). I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference).I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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War Is Funny

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Nov 23, 2009 @ 5:14 pm PDT

Sunday was a busy day, with two theatre activities back to back. The first of the productions was “M*A*S*H” at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall. Now, after all these years, you may think you know the story of “M*A*S*H”, but you probably don’t. “M*A*S*H” was originally a book by Richard Hooker writing loosely about his experiences during the Korean war. It was a series of incidents that took place at the 4077 MASH (and, by the way, there were a number of subsequent books of lesser quality that followed this group through further adventures). Hooker’s book was adapted into a screenplay that took some of the incidents and wove them into a coherent story, and on into the successful movie. The movie story was then adapted, a subset of characters selected, and turned into the long running ensemble comedy that most people know. Early in the TV show’s run the agglomeration was adapted into a stage play by Tim Kelly.

This production was an adaptation of that adaptation, and combined some elements from all the different sources. So although it was set in the same universe, there were some changes from what is known and loved: Hawkeye was faithful to his wife (although he did enjoy watching) — it was Duke who was the lothario. Burns didn’t hang around; he was sent to the looney bin. Hot Lips’ father wasn’t a general but a cook, and so on. For those familiar with the various sources, however, these changes weren’t too jarring. They all led to the same end point: that war environments are hellacious environments, and for those in them, the pressure relieves itself in various ways.

This production pulled together an number of different incidents, and roughly covered the timeline from Hawkeye and Duke’s arrival until their departure 18 months later. It thus covered their assignment to the 4077, the suicide of Painless the Puller, Hot Lips and Frank Burns, the War Correspondent, part of the football game, Ho-Jon’s injury, and the departure of Hawkeye and Duke. This led to a long production (and evidently, one that was even longer in rehearsal). I personally felt that it was too long, and that the script could do with some additional tighening and cutting that could further enhance the point (for example, at this point, the entire football storyline could be cut without significant loss, given that the end of the game was cut).

All the scenes and all the actions led to one of the largest casts seen at the REP (it was just one smaller than The Full Monty‘s cast). It was also a true ensemble, with the players all demonstrating strong talent, improvisational skills, and playing well off of each other. There were a few occasional line hesitations, but those should go away as the run continues. The Ensemble consisted of: Ransom Boynton (Capt ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce); Joe Roselund (Capt. ‘Duke’ Forrest); Daniel Lenchæ (Col. Henry Blake); Jarod Scott (Capt. ‘Trapper’ McIntyre); David Kenny (Cpl. ‘Radar’ O’Reilly); Bill Quinn (Maj. Frank Burns); Jillann Tara (Maj. ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan); John Morris (Fr. John Patrick Mulcahy); Tony Cicchetti (Capt. ‘Painless Pole’ Waldowski); Jill Kocalis Scottæ (Lt. ‘Dish’ Schneider); Johnny Schwinn (Pvt. Lorenzo Boone); Zac Bygum (Ho-Jon); Harry Bennettæ (General Hammond); Amber Van Loon (Capt. Scorch); Samantha Strickland (Lt. Leslie); Dave Forster (War Reporter); Erik Klein (Capt John ‘Ugly’ Black); and Eric Bush (Capt. ‘Spearchucker’ Jones). I really can’t single anyone out: all were excellent.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

This is a very busy play (just like the war environment), with lots going on in lots of different locations. The set by Jeff Hyde did a good job of providing those locations in a flexible manner; still at times the multiple locations was a little confusing. The direction by Ovington Michael Owston and Marlowe Weisman (who also helped with the script modifications) did a good job of bringing order to the chaos… most of the time. Sound and lighting design were by long-time REP regulars Steven ‘Nanook’ Burkholder (sound) and Tim Christianson (lights). Lauren Pearsall was the stage manager.

“M*A*S*H” continues at the REP East Playhouse until December 12. Shows have been selling out. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office; they are often available on Goldstar Events.

The REP has announced their 2010 season, which looks to be a strong one: Lost in Yonkers (January 22-February 20); On Golden Pond (March 12-April 10); 12 Angry Men (April 23-May 2); The Wedding Singer (May 21-June 19); The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (July 9-July 24); Side Man (August 13-August 28); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (September 17-October 16); and Amadeus (November 12-December 11). Subscriptions start at $120 adult, $110 senior/student (which appear to be the same as the 2009 prices).

Upcoming Theatre: Thanksgiving weekend sees us back at the Pasadena Playhouse for “Baby Its You” on November 28. The next week brings us to Van Nuys HS for “The Taming of the Shrew” (12/3, 12/4, and 12/5; we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance). I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference).I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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The Music of Your Youth

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 07, 2009 @ 10:08 am PDT

The subject of 1950 and 1960 harmonizing groups seems to be a popular one. We’ve seen this explored in a number of jukebox musicals, and from a number of different angles. There are musicals that explore the history of the writers, such as “Leader of the Pack”, “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”, or the upcoming “Baby Its You at the Pasadena Playhouse. There are musicals that explore the history of particular groups, such as “Jersey Boys”. There are musicals that combine the music of a number of artists in the story of a fictional group, such as the ever-touring “Forever Plaid” and “The Marvelous Wonderettes”. The author and director of the last show mentioned (“Marvelous Wonderettes”), Roger Bean, has a new show revisiting the era from a different gender and approach, “Life Could Be A Dream”, which we saw last night.

In “Marvelous Wonderettes”, Bean told the story of four high school friends and their life through a series of well-known songs, with bits of dialogue between each song. This was very similar to the approach taken in “Forever Plaid”. You can read my review of “Wonderettes” here. “Dream” is set in the same universe as “Wonderettes”, and focuses on four former members of the “Crooning Crabcakes” (the male choral group that couldn’t sing in Wonderettes). This time the story has a more significant set and plot, but is still a series of well-known do-wop songs strung together to illustrate the story and link together short bits of dialogue. The songs are treated more like performances, and are not integrated into the plot as well as one sees in other traditional musicals. That doesn’t seem to hurt the show–the songs are so well known and well loved that the audience just beams throughout the show. I could see this on the face of one white-haired grandma in the audience, who was just smiling throughout the entire show as the songs of her college years came back to her. Trust me, you do know these songs, which include 1960s standards such as “Sh Boom”, “Get a Job”, “Runaround Sue”, “Earth Angel”, “The Great Pretender”, and “Duke of Earl”. If you enjoyed Wonderettes, Plaid, or just grew up enjoying early 1960s music, you will enjoy this show.

The story is a relatively simple one. Denny (Daniel Tataræ) wants to win the recording contest prize from the radio station WOPR with his nerd-ish friend Eugene (Jim Holdridgeæ). Their friend Wally (Ryan Castellinoæ) works his way into the trio, and while registering the troupe, discovers they need a $50 fee. To get this fee they approach the owner of “Big Stuff Auto”, who sends his top mechanic Skip (Doug Carpenteræ) and his daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynnæ). Skip ends up joining the band, and Lois convinces her dad to sponsor them. However, Skip and Lois fall in love, which leads Skip to get fired and run away… and the other boys in the band fall in lust with Lois. Will they get back together as a band and win the contest? Will Skip and Lois get back together? This is the stuff of which musicals are made! That’s not to say the story is a strong one or has thematic depth. It is clearly a plot contrivance to permit many great songs to be sung. But one doesn’t go to shows like this for the plot — one goes for the music and the performance. C’mon, was Mamma Mia as success due to its uplifting and endearing plot? Did Cats run for years because of the plot? Clearly not (although Cats didn’t run for the music either… it ran for the dance… but I digress).

The cast for this show is excellent–in fact, one could call it a dream cast (ducks and runs). I was mesmerized with Jessica Keenan Wynn (who I know I’ve read about before): she has such a beautiful expressive face I just couldn’t stop watching her whenever she was on stage. She was a strong singer, and had a personality that came through in her face (although at times her smile seemed overly forced, but that could be directorial). I was also impressed with Doug Carpenter who had this marvelous deep voice and an infectious charm. Daniel Tatar was excellent as always (we’ve seen him in a number of productions, including Last 5 Years at the Pasadena Playhouse and Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Havoc. But I could gush about all the leads: they were just wonderful singers and strong actors that just seems to broadcast their joy and happiness of doing this show. They were having fun with it, and through their enjoyment, the audience had a blast. It is worth going to see this show before it closes just for the cast alone: they could do this as a concert, and folks would come out happy.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

If the show had weaknesses, they were on the technical side. The sound design was by the very busy Cricket Myers. I found the sound quality variable: there were points where the voices were clear, and there were points where the voices were a bit muddy. This could just have been a technical problem with a particular microphone. The lighting design by Luke Moyer was more of a problem. This particular theatre doesn’t have room for follow spots, so moving mirror lighting is used. These lights were either mis-aimed or focused (or the actors were slopping in hitting their marks), because often actors wouldn’t be in the spot, or would be half-in and half-out. I had less of a problem when the moving mirrors weren’t used, although my daughter had difficulties with some of the color choices in the scenes where the projected images were used. Additionally, as each act started, the lighting came up in this weird stepped fashion instead of a smooth brightening–again, very odd. It boils down to the fact that at points in the show the lighting proved to be distracting, which lighting should never do: it should be neutral at worst, and enhance at best. The costumes by Valentino’s Costumes were adequately period, although I found (at times) Jessica Wynn’s shoes to be odd — either the high-heels seemed too high or too shiny (again, a distraction that wasn’t needed). The set design by Tom Buderwitz was as cluttered as one would expect a basement to be, with suitable period debris scattered around to establish the time and location.

Other meta-areas were good: The production was directed by Roger Bean and worked well, although if actors are getting off their marks as indicated above, he might want to freshen it. The choreography by Lee Martino was very good and reflected well movements of groups like this, with the additional clumsy humor that was required from the characters. The musical direction by Michael Paternostro, with arrangements by Jon Newton with additional arrangements by Steve Parsons, was quite good, and I was amazed at how they got such a good sounding band squeezed into those little boxes hanging from the top of the stage. The production stage manager was Brigid O’Brien, who wins the award for the best bio in the playbill.

Life Could Be A Dream continues at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre through December 27, 2009 (it has been extended a number of times). Tickets are available through Plays411; they are occasionally available through Goldstar Events, although they tend only to be put up the week before and sell out quickly. Even with the lighting problems, I recommend you see this show. You will enjoy it.

Dining Notes: Dinner before the show was at Zeke’s Smokehouse, always a good choice when going to theatres in Hollywood. Parking is easy, and the food is good and plentiful.

Upcoming Theatre: The upcoming week is a busy one, although not in a theatrical sense. Come visit us in Perris on Veterans Day (Wednesday) at a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum. Next weekend brings two concerts: Erin is going to the TMBG concert at UCLA, while we will attending Havdalah with Peter Yarrow at the American Jewish University. On November 22 at 2pm we return to REP East Playhouse for “M*A*S*H”, followed by the next installment of Meeting of Minds (Frederick Douglass (Ernie Hudson), Empress Tz’u-hsi (France Nuyen), Cesare Baccaria (Joe Mantegna), and Marquis de Sade (Richard Gilliland)). Thanksgiving weekend is currently open; however, it might be taken by a shift of our production for the following weekend (“Baby Its You” at the Pasadena Playhouse, December 5 at 8pm… which, by the way, features the actress who played Marie Antoinette), due to the fact I head out the morning after we see it for ACSAC in Hawaii. That same weekend (December 3, 4, 5) also brings “The Taming of the Shrew” at Van Nuys HS — we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance. I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference).I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. We’ll be going to the movies on Christmas Day (as well as having Chinese food), and the likely movie is “Nine – The Musical”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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A Few Interesting Articles: Theatre, Cyberwar, and Unintended Consequences

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Oct 27, 2009 @ 6:48 pm PDT

I’m tired, and it’s really windy here in Northridge, so here are a few interesting articles from the NY Times. No clever departments this time:

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Another Meeting of Minds: Voltaire, Martin Luther, Florence Nightingale, and Plato

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Oct 26, 2009 @ 12:05 pm PDT

Last night, we went to the Steve Allen Theatre to see another episode in the recent theatrical revival of Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds. As I got home too late last night, I figured I’d take some time over lunch to write this. This production was episode #9, and featured:

  • Martin Luther (Ron Perlman) – (1483-1546); German protestant reformer
  • Voltaire (Ray Abruzzo) – (1694-1778); French writer, philosopher & moralist
  • Plato (Harold Gould) – (429-347 B.C.); Greek philosopher
  • Florence Nightingale (Sharon Lawrence) – (1820-1910); British hospital reformer; founder of nursing
  • Steve Allen (Gary Cole) (1921-2000) – The host and moderator. Writer, composer, inventor of late night TV, creator of Meeting of Minds

This was a second season episode, and it was clear that Steve Allen hadn’t had as much time to refine the scripts, for this episode was less a true dialogue and more a series of introductions into the four characters at the table. It is likely the dialog aspect grows in the second half of each episode pair, but those haven’t been produced yet. As a result, in this episode, we spent a bunch of time with Voltaire, and then Martin Luther, and then Florence Nightingale, and finally Plato. So let’s look at each performance and performer.

Gary Cole (Steve Allen) is the one common element in these performances. He does a good job of moderating, but doesn’t always capture Allen’s jocularity. He also occasionally slips up in the staged reading, but some are better at cold reads than others. Ray Abruzzo (Voltaire) gave a strong performance: he had Voltaire’s energy and condescending nature down — you can tell he was on the side of reason and against the religious faith-based notions of Martin Luther. Abruzzo did well with the cold reading. Ron Perlman (Martin Luther), however, was the weakest of the group this time: his reading was very quiet and subdued (some in the audience even asked him to speak up), and he didn’t have the firebrand energy I expected from Luther. As such, his discussion took much longer than it should have. Luckily, this quiet mood changed when Sharon Lawrence (Florence Nighingale) came to the table. Although she entered looking feeble with her cane, she proved to have strong energy and fire and passion about the poor conditions of the British soldiers during the Crimean War. Last to the table was Harold Gould (Plato), looking quite old (he almost reminded me of George Burns in “Oh God”). You could tell he was the consummate actor: he gave a nuanced performance above and beyond the reading, and reacted well to the mocking that his notions about science and the origins of man received.

This performance had more ad-libbing from the original script than I’ve seen before. Abruzzo ad-libbed, when he screwed up a French name, to “Pardon my French, I haven’t used it in 300 years”. Perlman made a simlar ad-lib when screwing up the German (“Pardon my German, I haven’t used it in 400 years”. Lawrence had her own more appropriate script change, when she broadened the power of the media to explicitly include the Internet, which Allen hadn’t mentioned in his 1978 script. I believe that Cole also had an ad-lib making fun of Scientology in response to a comment by either Plato or Luther.

This episode was not as energetic as the first season episodes, and expanded beyond the nominal hour it should have taken. It was still good, but the subdued nature of Perlman as Martin Luther was a significant weakness.

Technically, the show was simple. A table, some chairs, some water on the table. The production was directed by Frank Megna; no other technical credits were provided in the program. Lighting was simple. I do have one technical comment. At the first episode we saw, a representative from Working Stage got up and introduced the program, indicated what they were trying to do with the revival, and (of course) requested that beeping devices be disabled. That wasn’t done at this performance, and I missed it. All we had was someone standing up and pointing to their cellphone. As I said on the last episode, I think that bringing back this introduction would be a good thing for the series overall.

The next episode of “Meeting of Minds” only had the date and actors announced: Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 7pm, featuring Gary Cole, Joe Mantegna, Ernie Hudson, France Nguyen, and Richard Gilliland (Eventbrite Page). Given the ethnic mix of the cast, this looks to be Episode #7:

  • Frederick Douglass – (c.1818-1895); black American abolitionist
  • Empress Tz ‘u-hsi – (1835-1908); Dowager Empress of China
  • Marchese di Bonesana Cesare Beccaria – (1738-94); Italian philosopher & politician
  • Marquis Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade – (1740-1814); French revolutionary

This should be an interesting discussion about, among other things, the role of torture. It may create some interesting parallels to what has happened during the Iraq war.

Upcoming Theatre: We currently have no theatre scheduled over the next two weeks, due to Halloween on Saturday and Erin’s Homecoming D&D game the following Saturday. Still, if I find the right production, the Sundays are open. November 11th (Veterans Day) we’re at a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum. The following weekend Erin is going to the TMBG concert at UCLA, while we will attending Havdalah with Peter Yarrow at the American Jewish University. On November 22 at 2pm we return to REP East Playhouse for “M*A*S*H”, followed by the next installment of Meeting of Minds (pending ticketing). Thanksgiving weekend is currently open; however, it might be taken by a shift of our production for the following weekend (“Baby Its You” at the Pasadena Playhouse, December 5 at 8pm… which, by the way, features the actress who played Marie Antoinette), due to the fact I head out the morning after we see it for ACSAC in Hawaii. That same weekend (December 3, 4, 5) also brings “The Taming of the Shrew” at Van Nuys HS — we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance. I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference). While there, I hope to get together one night with shutterbug93 and see some local theatre. I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 brings “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.

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