Observations Along the Road

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

The Mother Superior Ship

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 28, 2015 @ 8:02 am PDT

Nunsense (Crown City)userpic=theatre_ticketsEspecially when contrasted to movies, sequels in the live theatre business are extremely rare. In general, for theatre, sequels flop. Just look at Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, or Love Never Dies. When you move to the arena of Off-Broadway (i.e., smaller size houses), sequels and series fare better. There are, of course, the Holiday spinoffs (e.g., Plaid Tidings, Winter Wonderettes). There are a few live theatre tentpole seriess: the Forbidden Broadway series, the Don’t Hug Me series, and the extremely popular Nunsense series (which is just about to launch a streaming TV series), written by Dan Goggin.

I’ve known about the Nunsense series for years, having many of the cast albums in my collections. However, I’ve never actually seen a Nunsense in the wild. That is, until last night.  When I learned that Crown City Theatre (FB) was doing Nunsense as their holiday show, the ticket watch started. We ended up ticketing for this weekend, and so we were blessed with Nunsense as our final live theater show of 2015. I’m pleased to say that this production lived up to the excellent quality standard we’ve seen from Crown City. More on that in a paragraph or two.

So what is Nunsense about? The elevator pitch explanation is, to put it bluntly, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?” Well, forget those nuns in The Sound of Music. Those are not the nuns that you are looking for. For which you are looking. Oh, never mind.

Here’s a longer summary from the Nunsense website: Nunsense begins when the Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the eighth grade production of “Grease.” Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head.

Or, as I said, “Singing and dancing nuns. What could be funnier?”  This is not high concept theater, folks.

Luckily, funny it is. Under the direction of Kristen Towers Rowles (FB), these nuns have fun, let loose, and generally ham it up (which they can do, because they do not keep kosher). The sense is playful from beginning to end, and I even got the sense that there was some level of improvisation (at least in how some bits were done).

Nunsense Production StillsThe performances … at least the ones we saw … were excellent. I add that caveat because there are swings for every role; at our performance we had the swing for Sister Mary Hubert. Thus, I cannot speak to the folks we didn’t see, but given the playfulness of this bunch, I’d expect them to be great.

As Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior, we had Michelle Holmes (FB) [Swing: Karen Christie (FB)]. Holmes seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role, as could be seen in the Unexpected Discovery scene near the end of Act I, the “Just a Coupl’a Sisters” song, and in particular, the “Baking with the BVM” scene. About my only comment on her performance is easily correctable: there are a number of lines in the script that imply that the Mother Superior is a bit more on the hefty size, or at minimum, has a hefty rump. However, Holmes is relatively skinny — which made those lines incongruous. Some slight adaptation to the script would solve the problem.

At our performance, Sister Mary Hubert was played by Elizabeth Jane Charlton/FB, the swing [Normally: Renee Cohen (FB)]. I really liked Charlton’s Hubert. I’m sure part of this is that she fit my mind’s image of Hubert, for some reason. She had a very good singing voice, which manifested itself in her number “Holier Than Thou” much more than in her other numbers. She was fun to watch.

Sister Robert Anne was portrayed by Lisa Dyson (FB) [Swing: Kristin Farrell (FB)]. Dyson gave off an appropriate New Yawk street smart vibe, which worked well. She did very well in her number “I Just Want to Be a Star”.

Kelly Dorney (FB)’s Sister Mary Amnesia gave one of my two favorite performances in the show (Swing: Amanda Walter (FB)). She brought a wonderful playfulness to the role, and an even more remarkable singing voice. I was just blown away by her singing. Wow. Umm, where was I. Oh yes. It is hard to pick a favorite performance of hers, but I really liked her “I Could’ve Gone to Nashville” number, but “So You Want To Be A Nun” comes a close second.

My other favorite performance was Shayna Gabrielle (FB) as Sister Mary Leo (Swing: Alix Isom (FB)). Gabrielle was just mischevious, especially later on where you could see she was getting into the overall humor and starting to crack up at the antics of the other performers. Her comic dance in “Soup’s On” was just spectacular. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.

The movement of the nuns was choreographed by Lisaun Wittingham (FB), assisted by Michael Marchak (FB). In general, the dances worked well. Particularly notable was “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step” and the aforementioned “Soup’s On”.

Music Direction, arrangement, and performance was by William A. Reilly (FB).

Turning to the production side. The program states that the set and prop design was by the Eighth Grade Class at the Mount Saint Helen School, but I truly doubt that. I’m guessing it was done by the dedicated folks at Crown City. Of course, this show doesn’t really need that much of a set, and the primary prop is Sister Mary Annette. Costume design was by Tanya Apuya (FB), and they looked suitably nun-like to this Jew. Lighting Design was by Zad Potter (FB), who also served as Production Stage Manager.  Lighting is an interesting challenge at Crown City, as there is no space for a traditional spot and use of a moving mirror is required. This worked reasonably well, although there was some flicker either coming from either the spot or the floor lighting. Remaining production credits: Sound design: Joe Shea (FB); Projection/Video Design: Chris Thume/FB; House Technical Manager: Michael Pammit/FB.

Nunsense continues at Crown City Theatre (FB) until at least January 17, 2016, with a possible extension (which is highly likely, as Crown City shows love to extend). Tickets are available through the Crown City website; they are also available through Goldstar and Plays411. Go. You’ll enjoy it.

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 last live theater show for 2015. Next up is “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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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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Alternate Realities

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 20, 2015 @ 2:16 pm PDT

If / Then (Hollywood Pantages)userpic=broadwaylaFirst and foremost, because I am obligated to clear the misconception: If you go to If/Then – The Musical expecting a musicalization of that seminal work, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful” by Edgar Dijkstra, you will be solely disappointed.

Although that would make a cool musical. Especially with Idena Menzel (FB) as Grace Hopper.

So what is If/Then (which we saw last night at the Pantages Theatre (FB) in Hollywood) about, if not programming? Science has a theory that every time anyone makes a decision, the universe splits. Each reality reflects the timeline from the decision point, following what would have happened for each way the decision could have gone. This creates an infinite number of alternate realities, reflecting all possible decisions. Many may be dead and lifeless; many may be almost identical. Each is self contained, with no way to know that the other realities exist.

If/Then shows the path of two of those realities as they apply to the life of Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan, an urban planner recently returned to New York City after the end of her college marriage. Both paths revolve around the interaction of Elizabeth and her friends: Lucas (a college friend and housing activist); Kate (a lesbian kindergarten teacher who lives across the hall from Elizabeth); Stephen (another college friend and an urban planner with the City of New York); and Josh (an Army doctor just returned from a tour of duty, who meets Elizabeth in the park).

In one path (the “Liz” path, so-called because Elizabeth is called “Liz” in this path), Liz follows the advice of Kate: she makes the wild choices. She goes into academia, starts dating the man she just met (Josh), and works to build a family and friends.

In the other path (the “Beth” path), Beth follows the advice of Lucas: she accepts a job doing urban planning for the city, and dedicates her life not to love but to work, moving up the urban planning life, working for Stephen.

In both cases, the “ideal” life goes in an uncertain direction in the second act, concluding with Beth/Liz getting the opportunity to start over. You can find a more detailed summary with the various plot twists over on Wikipedia.

The presentation of the alternate realities keeps intertwining the two timelines: songs often keep going back and forth from one line to the other during the song.  Contrast this with The Last 5 Years, which also has two timelines, but keeps them separate except for one meeting point. How do you keep track of which line you are in?  By what characters are around, their demeanor, and by what Elizabeth is called.

In reading the reviews before the show, I’ve seen critics all over the map regarding the story (an original story by Brian Yorkey) and the music/lyrics (music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey). Some like it; some find it “meh”. I actually enjoyed the story and seeing the multiple lines. If I had one quibble story-wise, it is that the show is far too New York City centric. I understand that to New Yorkers and to those who work on Broadway, New York City is the center of the universe — but it really isn’t. The 33 square miles of Manhattan is just a drop compared to most megalopolises.  The constant dropping of references to New York communities and institutions is confusing to the non-New York audiences, and the New York specific references in the projects provide no meaning or clues to those that know not New York. But the worst part is: none of them are necessary. The story would work just the same in any other major city (with some joke adjustments). This makes the New York attitude come off with a sense of “we’re better and cooler than you” — which will play great on Broadway, but lands with a thud elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.

Modulo the New York aspect, the underlying story I found enjoyable. This is one of those very few musicals that actually had humor that made me laugh. There are great jokes and great lines in this show (none of which I can recall right now, except for a wonderful Yankees / Mets joke), and the leads seemed reasonable, if not perhaps a bit too sitcom-successful. I should also note that I particularly liked the choice to have Elizabeth with a PhD in a technical field — urban planning. This is a wonderful role model for the girls in the audience, and deserves extra applause.

Before I go to the music, an aside about the audience. I’ve commented in the past about a phenomenon I’ll call “audience coloring”: that is, when a show by an African-American author or with African-American theme suddenly changes the complexion of the audience, and the same with other ethnicities. The implication — which I can understand — is that a group previously marginalized in the onstage presentation mix makes a special effort to go to a show that speaks to their experience. But I go to a show to learn about all experiences — and so I would like to see audience diversity for all shows, just as we’re pushing for performer and creative diversity on the stage and in the house. I mention this because there was a “coloring” I hadn’t noticed before at this show: there were significantly more same-sex couples — and visibly out same-sex couples — at this show. When I asked my wife, she felt it was because the show made a conscious effort (if not an over-effort) to portray same-sex and sexually-fluid couples in addition to the main story. I would think so, but it seemed too pushed, too forced. In fact, it is so pushed — and the show is so New York centric — that I wonder how this show will play outside the liberal urban centers (especially in the South and Midwest). I truly look forward to the day that diversity just is there, and the efforts to mirror society diversity aren’t as “in your face” as we’re seeing these days. End the aside. Begin the beguine.

This brings us to the music of the show. Going in, I had heard the album — in fact, I had heard the album with this cast (which is now something rare to get in Los Angeles (ah, for the days when the LACLO usually brought in the Broadway stars)). I had actually liked the music quite a bit — if I look in my iTunes, 60% of the songs are starred as favorites. Some songs are particularly cute — such as “What the Fuck?”; others are very touching. I particularly liked “You Learn to Live Without”, which is a lovely counterpoint to “Who Gave You Permission?” from Ballroom. Both looked at dealing with the aftermath of death: one with acceptance and moving forward, the other with anger. About my only problem with the music was volume — at times, it tended to overpower the voices. I’ll note that the orchestra (credits in a few paragraphs) was conducted by a woman: Carmel Dean [☣] — something you don’t see as much as you should, and kudos to the If/Then team for the selection.
[☣ – Note: Do not go to Dean’s website “carmeldean dot com”– it attempts a drive-by injection of malware. I have contacted the website designers (Roundhouse Designs), and they are working to disinfect the site.]

Music brings us to dance, and dance brings us to cheography. Here, perhaps, is my biggest quibble with the show. Larry Keigwin (FB)’s choreography, assisted by Associate Choreographer Mark Myars (FB), works most of the time. But during many numbers, inexplicably,  there are all these fancy dances going on in the background that seemingly have nothing to do with the story. By doing so, they serve to detract and not enhance the story. I strongly believe that dance in a show must serve the story; it isn’t just there to show of the dancing. Dance can show joy and happiness, love and sorry, in ways that words cannot. But you look in the background in many of the scenes — especially the park scenes early on — and it just makes no sense. Not every musical requires loads of dancing; some are just songs and appropriately rhythmic music. The choreographers here seemed to have forgotten that at points. Marc delaCruz (FB) served as dance captain; it is interesting to note that delaCruz was not the typical swing in the position, but had a significant track (David).

Let’s now turn to the performances. Luckily for many in the West (Denver, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Costa Mesa, Tempe) we get many of the original leads, so I can’t speak to how the new tour leads work. In terms of broad performance, the direction by Michael Greif, assisted by Associate Director David Alpert (FB) and Production Stage Manager Shawn Pennington (FB), worked to keep the distinctions between the multiple timelines clear. I didn’t see an obviously heavy directoral hand, and the movements and emotions seemed to fit the characters well (including, except for the odd dancing, the reactions of the ensemble to the main characters).  I’ll note that Greif has worked with Menzel quite a bit, so the quality of their closeness came out in the seamlessness of the performances.

In terms of individual performances, we begin with Idena Menzel (FB). She clearly brought a younger audience to the show; you should hear the reaction when she came out on stage. She has an energy and a connection to this character that comes across to the audience. I personally feel that she relates to the character and the notion of decisions that can shape one’s life: she’s coming out of a long marriage to Taye Diggs (FB), she’s had her life reshaped by her decisions on Frozen, and she probably is regularly thinking about how her decisions have lead her on this path. She gives a great — indeed, remarkable performance as Elizabeth/ Beth / Liz. Very realistic. Very natural. Some critics have commented on her voice; that didn’t bother me (I like distinctive voices). However, she did suffer from the New York centric focus of the show — the words in the songs often came too fast, making them difficult to follow. This won’t bother the New York audiences at all — New Yawkers talk fast and live fast. But out in the tour world, the story may be a little different. It will be interesting to see how Jackie Burns (FB) modifies the performance once Idena leaves — in particular, will she slightly slow things down to increase understandability.

In the next tier, we have the “best friends”: Kate (LaChanze (FB)) and Lucas (Anthony Rapp (FB)). LaChanze was delight to finally see — I’ve loved her voice since I first heard it on Once on this Island. She, too, brought a realize and naturalness to her character that was great; she clearly enjoyed this role. Similarly with Rapp — he came across as comfortable as Lucas, and had a nice interplay with Menzel. Both had wonderful singing voices.

Also in this tier were the love interests of various forms: James Snyder (FB) as Josh and Daren A. Herbert (FB) as Stephen. We’ve seen Snyder before on the LA stages in Dangerous Beauty. We loved his voice and performance then, and we love it still. He just has a very charming stage presence that makes him instantly likable, which combines with his great voice to give a powerhouse performance. My only complaint is that his album should also have been for sale.  Herbert was new to us, but also gave a good performance as Stephen. You could see him as a New York urban planner.

Rounding out the love interests of the secondary characters were Janine DiVita (FB) as Anne, Kate’s love interest (and U/S Elizabeth); Marc delaCruz (FB) as David, the love interest to Lucas in one track (and dance captain); and Kyra Faith (FB) as Elena.  DiVita gave a spirited performance as Anne — she mostly was in the background in Act I, but shone in Act II. I did enjoy Faith’s performance. She stands out in the ensemble and other numbers due to a unique height and look, and she has a great interaction with Menzel.

Rounding out the cast in smaller and ensemble positions were: English Bernhardt (FB) (Paulette and others); Xavier Cano (FB) (A Soldier and others; u/s David); Corey Greenan (FB) (Deputy Mayor, An Architect, and others; u/s Josh, Stephen); Cliffton Hall (FB) (A Bartender and others; u/s Lucas); Deedee Magno Hall (FB) (Cathy and others; u/s Elizabeth, Kate); Tyler McGee (FB) (A Street Musician and others; u/s Josh); and Alicia Taylor Tomasko (FB) (A Flight Attendant and others). Swings were Charissa Bertels (FB) (Swing; u/s Kate, Anne); Trey Ellett (FB) (Swing; u/s Lucas, David); Joseph Morales (FB) (Swing); and Emily Rogers (FB) (Swing; u/s Anne). This cast has a large number of double-understudies for some reason. Standouts in this group were McGee’s street musician (who I noticed playing his guitar). The group danced well, but note my previous comment on the choreography problems (which isn’t the fault of the performance, who executed the moves beautifully, but perhaps mechanically).

The last performance aspect is music. As noted earlier, the music was by Tom Kitt, who did his usual rockish score. Orchestrations were by Michael Starobin (FB). I found both the music and how it was orchestrated quite good. Rounding out the lead music credits were: Carmel Dean [Music Director]; Annmarie Milazzo [Vocal Arrangements]; Michael Keller [Music Coordinator]; Michael Aarons [Associate Music Coordinator]. The orchestra was conducted by Carmel Dean, assisted by Associate Conductor Kyle Norris (FB), and Assistant Conductor Dan Bailey (FB) [who was also Keyboard 1]. The remainder of the touring musicians were Hidayat Honari (FB) [Guitar] and Jay Mack (FB) [Drums]. These were augmented by LA local musicians Kathleen Robertson (FB) [Violin]; Susan Chatman [Concertmaster]; Jessica Van Velzen (FB) [Viola]; Paula Fehrenbach (FB) [Cello]; Trey Henry [Bass / Electric Bass]; Dick Mitchell [Alto Sax / Flute / Clarinet / Bass Clarinet]; John Yoakum (FB) [Tenor Sax / Clarinet / Oboe / English Horn]; Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet]; Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitars]; David Witham (FB) [Keyboard Sub]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor]. I’ll just note — because you don’t get to see the credits — that Bergeron is part of one of the best jazz bands around: Gordon Goodson’s Big Phat Band.

Turning to the creative and production credits. The set design by Mark Wendland worked well: there was a turntable (which obviously sat on top of the Pantages stage so they do not have to build it at each venue) and a number of movable open-frame boxes that served as multiple set pieces, combined with a scaffold. All worked well to establish the sense of place and worked well regarding the multiple timelines. They were augmented by projection design of Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully. The projections kept reinforcing the location as “New York” (dummy) through maps and subway lines, which were meaningless to those who did not know the city (like much of LA). They were, however, effective in conveying the appropriate sense of motion for the subway lines and the air travel. The lighting by Kenneth Posner worked well and provided appropriate emotional support for the scenes; I particularly noted the use of red washes near the end. We sat in the Mezzanine this show, and (unfortunately) discovered that Brian Ronan (FB)’s sound design wasn’t as well tuned for people off the ground floor — the sound was muffled a bit. I’m beginning to think the answer for the Pantages, if you are not mid-to-front on the Orchestra level, is to rent the headphone and let the amplification do its job. You’ll be in better shape than dealing with the sound bouncing off of all the rococo design in the Pantages auditorium. The costumes by Emily Rebholz worked reasonably well, although I was unsure about Menzel’s wedding dress in the Act II opener — it was oddly bulky and the zipper was too prominent (c’mon, I saw it from the balcony). The wig and hair desgin by David Brian Brown (FB) worked well and appeared natural; he must have fun trying to control Tyra Faith’s ‘doo :-). Rounding out the production credits are: Telsey+Company (FB) [Casting]; Jake Bell [Technical Supervision]; 321 Theatrical Management [General Management]; Jen Ash (FB) [Stage Manager]; Heather Englander (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]. There were too many producers to list them all, so see here instead.

The If/Then tour (FB) continues in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theatre (FB) through January 3, 2016; it then decamps off to San Diego, Tempe, Costa Mesa. The original cast folks then depart, and the tour cast continues to Dallas and points midwest and east.  Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office/Ticketmaster; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I enjoyed the show quite a bit; I think you might as well. Just don’t go expecting to learn anything about program.

P.S.: The programmer in me insists on the following:  ENDIF. Of course, if you’re using Algol 68 or Bash, that should be FI. Then perhaps it should be END IF (Ada), unless it is END-IF (Cobol). Now I see why folks use blocks instead.

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: The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). 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; “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 a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for for January 16 or January 17 for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB). There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start. This leads to uncertainty about the Group Rep show (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). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, 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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An Avenue Q Christmas

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 13, 2015 @ 3:18 pm PDT

Who Killed Santa? (Theatre 68)userpic=chanukah-christmasPuppets have an interesting place in the panoply of potential actors. Some puppets are clearly designed to tell stories to children — sappy fairy tales with morals, clear distinctions between good and evil, and nary a hint of sex. Often, the intent is for the audience to see the puppets as only the puppet; the underlying puppeteer is invisible. The use of the puppets in adult stories was very limited, and limited to the Flahooleys in Flahooley, the puppets of Carnival, and, umm, well that’s about it.

Then came Avenue Q. Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell an adult story. In fact, Avenue Q showed that puppets can be used to tell a story that might not be possible with human actors. Puppets can offend and say things that a human would never get away with. Avenue Q also showed that it doesn’t make a difference if you can see the human puppeteer, as long as said puppeteer dressed in all black. In fact, seeing the puppeteer had some advantages in that the expressive human’s face could augment the much more limited expressiveness of the puppet face. Oh, and ventriloquism? Thrown out the window.  If you can see the puppeteer, you know these are puppets and there is no reason to throw your voice. Just go with the suspension of disbelief.

Who Killed Santa?, which we saw last night at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) in a production from Theatre 68 (FB), is clearly a product of the Avenue Q vein of puppetry. The main cast of puppet characters (see in the postcard to the right) all have human manipulators that are clearly visible (and are, of course, wearing black). Most of the puppets are hand and rod puppets (think most Muppets or Princeton from Ave. Q); Frosty is a hand and glove or “live hand” puppet (think Sweetums from the Muppets or Nicky from Ave. Q).

Who Killed Santa? is also, clearly, a Christmas show. We’re Jewish. So why would we go see a Christmas show, especially as we had already seen one Christmas show this season already? The answer is, like the previous show, that the synopsis was so warped as to draw us in:

In this hilarious and irreverent send-up, Santa is hosting his annual holiday party attended by the usual holiday favorites: Frosty, Tiny Tim, The Little Drummer Boy, and Rudolph, who all have a bone to pick with Santa. After the introduction of the sexy new Little Drummer Girl, tempers flare, and Santa ends up with a candy cane through the heart. No one will confess, no one can leave, and Christmas is in jeopardy. As the tension builds, a couple of incompetent detectives enter the scene, and all the dirty secrets of these iconic holiday characters are revealed. Eventually, with the help of the audience, the murderer is convicted and sentenced.

So let’s put this together: We have puppets. We have a Christmas-themed murder mystery. We have adult themes and songs. We have no religious content. We have parodies of well-known Christmas songs. Wouldn’t that draw you in? This was either going to be great, or it was going to be a train wreck.

Who Killed Santa? (Production Stills)I’m pleased to say that the train stayed on the track. I am sad to say that I couldn’t get fully into the moment and the humor, but that wasn’t the fault of the show but the fault of the light migraine that chose to manifest itself 15 minutes into the show (after staying away for the entire ACSAC conference). But even with the headache, I found the show very cute and enjoyable, with great song parodies, wonderful performances, and some really good humor.

Playwright Neil Haven (FB) has created a Santa who is very different than the current image of the jolly fat man (which, truthfully, sets people up for unrealistic expectations). Haven’s Santa is one that overworks his elf employees, denies them holiday parties, drinks to excess, and who is interested in keeping his, well, North Pole polished, if you get my drift. This creates adult backstories / interstitials for all of the iconic characters portrayed by the puppets: Frosty, who Santa abuses and refuses to consider a part of Christmas, relegating him to the lesser “Winter” holidays, and who has an unspoken past with Santa; Tiny Tim, who is a virgin — a source of great mirth to Santa; Steve, the drummer boy, who has suffered abuse at the hands of Santa; Rudolph, who also has a drinking problem as well as potential relationship issues; and the newest icon: Chastity, the drummer girl, who was added to bring more female balance to the team, and to whom Santa is hoping to have a relationship that is inappropriate for an old man and a girl. Tim is also interested in such a relationship, which pisses off Santa who sees Tim as competition. All of this, you see, can lead one to murder.

That, of course, is eventually what happens. Santa is stabbed with a candy cane, and through various expositional means, all of the backstories come out. Any of the characters had both motive and opportunity. This leaves it to the elves to decide who is the guilty party.

This brings us to the elves, who are played by… the audience and the tech crew. At the beginning of the show, the two costumed elves — the keyboardist and the light/sound guy — inform the audience that they are elves, and are being oppressed by Santa. At various points in the show, they are led in protest songs (found in the program) and get to hold up picket signs (the last page of the program). They are also excluded from Santa’s holiday party where the action on stage is happening. As a result, the actors on stage periodically wipe the windows clear and made comments about the elven audience … and then turn to the elven audience to decide on the killer and to, in Edwin Drood style, determine which of the potential endings for the show will be used.

In terms of the story, I’d characterize it as a bunch of caricatures thrown together to create a story. In this sense, it is no different than other mashups, such as the movie Rise of the Guardians. The caricatures, however, seem intentionally drawn to turn these sweet characters into adults. The portrayal emphasizes their randiness and adult nature, including adult proclivities and weaknesses. I personally found it reasonably funny, although others might find it a tad overdone. I would guess that one’s reaction would depend on how one viewed the characters in the first place. As I have little connection or emotional resonance with the iconic characters, I’m willing to go with the flow.

The music in the story is primarily a collection of parodies of existing Christmas and holiday music. The nature of the parodies ranges from the extremely well done to the extremely raunchy. Here’s an example from a few pages of the script that I found online:

Frosty the Snow Thing
Is like them plastic dolls.
The kids forgot his ding-a-ling
But he does have three big balls.

Here’s another, to the tune of Carol of the Bells:

Santa is dead.
Blood has been shed.
Evil at work.
Someone’s a jerk.

No one can leave
Cannot believe
One of you guys
Wrought his demise

You should have the idea by now. I found the songs to be cute takes on the original. Will you like them? That depends on whether you’re willing to go along with the parody and the notions in play.

Where does this leave us, at least in terms of the story? I think if you are a person who hold Christmas near and dear, one who cannot laugh at iconic Christmas characters or accept their straying off the narrow path of purity, then this is not the musical play for you. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to go along with iconic characters (including Santa) as raunchy versions of themselves, and for there to be sexual dalliances between iconic Christmas characters (including children) and adults — and, in fact, if you can laugh at that notion — then you’ll love this play.

The performances are hard to judge; it is hard to be spectacular when one hand is covered in felt and foam, the other is manipulating a rod, and the audience may be looking at the puppet’s face instead of yours. Still, there were memorable aspects. As Frosty the Snowman, Jonathan Berenson (FB) (the bulk of Frosty), and Peter Osterweil (FB) (Frosty’s right arm) projected an air of affibility.  They brought a good energy to the role, although given the nature of Frosty, I hesitate to say they were hot (but I’m sure they did a great cold reading… I’m here all week folks, try the fish sandwich). Seriously, I liked their interpretation of Frosty — a bit addled, but clearly annoyed by Santa’s treatment of him.

Jotapé Lockwood (FB)’s portrayal of Steve, the Little Drummer Boy, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the cast. He did a great job of creating the image of Steve — the little drummer boy who now played with heavy metal bands. Then he opens his mouth for the parody of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, and this marvelous operatic voice comes out. I’d love to hear this guy do an opera or a concert — he is that good. Reminded me of Rod Gilfry in the quality of his voice.

Marissa Fennell (FB)’s Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer took the red nose to heart. She vocalized the character as if the red nose was due not only to drinking, but to a very bad head cold. There was this odd nasal quality to the vocal interpretation that I found odd until it was explained to me. As an audience member, I can’t tell if it was her choice or the directors, but I think it was a little strong. Other than that, the character came across fine — a randy drunken buck, potentially interested in other bucks. But as Fats Waller says….

Katie Zeiner‘s Tiny Tim was portrayed with a strong British, if not Cockney, voice and attitude. She conveyed the randiness of Tim appropriately, and limped as she moved the puppet, a nice choice.

Rebecca Rose Phillips (FB) was the newest iconic character, Chastity, the Little Drummer Girl. As Chastity, Phillips brought an interesting sexual energy to the role. Nowhere is this clearer than in her introductory number, a parody of Lady Marmalade,  with a refrain of “Faa-la-la-la Pah-rum pum / Faa-la-la-la-la here / Marshmallow Hot Choc-lat Yum Yum / Norske Goddess Mrs. Claus”

This brings us to the lone actor that portrays all the non-puppet characters: Thomas F. Evans (FB), who is Santa Claus, The Detective, The Tooth Fairy, and Mrs. Claus. Evans’ portrayal of each of these is very different from each other. His Santa Claus is clearly a horny alcoholic letch, although the costuming seemingly interferes with the clearly fake beard (although I understand why they do it). His dectective is suitably bumbling, and I truly do not have strong impressions of his latter two characters (the headache kicked in right around then, and all I can recall is enjoying them, but not the specifics).

The cast was rounded out by Ed Cosico (FB) and Jordan Wall (FB) as the elves.Their main performance role was to stir up the workers (audience) into singing protest songs and to hold protest banners. In their day job, they were the Acocmpanist and the Sound / Light Board operator, respectively.

Who Killed Santa? was directed and produced by Ronnie Marmo (FB), who is also the artistic director of Theatre 68. Marmo recognized this play for what it is: a light fluff of a comedy designed to entertain and then get out of the way. He captured the stereotypes well, if not a bit too much, and cast actors that were able to improves when things went wrong (which often happens in intimate theatre). I did appreciate that he had his actors do the little things, like vocalizing the squeaking you hear when you wipe a misty window dry to look out of it. Marmo was assisted by Heidi Rhodes (FB).

Turning to the production side of things: The set was designed by Danny Cistone (FB), who created a simple Christmasy room that established place and supported the story. What more could you ask for? The puppets were by Libby Letlow (FB), based on the original designs of Dan Katula. Letlow also provided the puppetry coaching. Both were executed well — the actors seems to inhabit and portray the puppet characters handily (see what I did there :-)). The puppets themselves seemed to be well suited for the job, and seemed to characterize their characters appropriately. The lighting by Paul McGee/FB did a suitable job of establishing mood and illuminating the scenes.  Props were by Grace DeWolff, and were cute and effective. The costumes, by MJ Scott/FB, were effective (such as they were). The parenthetical was due to the fact that the only character with a real costume was Santa / The Detective / Tooth Fairy / Mrs. Claus. Those worked, and provided sufficient ability to change. My only complaint was that the Santa beard was just a little too fake. Remaining production credits were: Emily Juliani (FB) – Tech Director / Prop Master; Brian Myers/FB – Music Arrangement; Jotapé Lockwood (FB) – Music Direction; Marissa Fennell (FB) – Publicity Stills (which you can see above); Neil Haven (FB) – Sound Design; Jordan Wall (FB) – Light and Sound Operator; Sandra Kuker PR (FB) – Publicity and Marketing; Sandra McHale – Playbill Design; Amanda Schlicher (FB) – Playbill Design. Who Killed Santa? was originally produced and conceived with puppets in Milwaukee WI by Neil Haven (FB), Bo Johnson (FB), and Dan Katula.

Who Killed Santa? continues at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) until January 2nd, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm, except for Christmas Day. Tickets are available at Plays411. It does not appear to be up on Goldstar; however discount tickets are available on LA Stage Tix, while they last. If you’re looking for an adult-oriented silly fluff of a Christmas play, this one should do nicely.

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: The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). 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; “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 a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for for January 16 or January 17 for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB). There is also the open question of whether there will be Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) 2016 season, and when it will start. This leads to uncertainty about the Group Rep show (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). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, 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.

Music: “The Gift”, from The Fortress of Solitude (2015 Original Cast), performed by Kristen Sieh, and the Fortress Ensemble

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Inspired Lunacy

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 06, 2015 @ 7:47 am PDT

El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola (The Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyCircuses are inherently theatrical. Performers adopt larger than life persona in order to entertain. They clown. They make you laugh. They make you cry. They are theatrical, yes. But are they theatre?

That, perhaps, is the question you find you asking yourself after you see the current production, El Grande Circus de Coca Cola at The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank. To me, well, I haven’t seen such inspired lunacy in Burbank since, well, January 2014 when Moonie and Broon were at the Colony. But for others…

El Grande Circus de Coca Cola is, in a sense, a continuation of the story started in El Grande de Coca Cola (which I mean to see when it was at the Ruskin Group Theatre (FB), but (alas) didn’t). The original tells the story of Senor Don Pepe Hernandez, has announced in the local newspaper in that he is going to bring international cabaret to Trujillo. Eventually he succeeds, and we see the cabaret within the cabaret as it unfolds, with all of mistakes — the conjuring tricks that don’t work, the people that trip up, a blind American folk singer who falls off the stage, colliding chorus girls, etc.

El Grande Circus continues the adventures as this troupe sneaks across the border, first to Hollywood, and thence to the Hollywood-adjacent Burbank. The 85-minute, one-act show is a circus performance by Don Pepe (Marcelo Tubert (FB)) and his family: Miguel (Paul Baird (FB)), Maria (Olivia Cristina Delgado (FB)), Consuelo (Lila Dupree (FB)), and Juan (Jesse D. Myers (FB), who replaced Aaron Miller).  The picture to the right shows the original cast (all but the Juan we saw, but he’s the Juan that I want (sorry, couldn’t resist)) at the Skylight (FB), but the production was essentially the same at the Colony).

The show itself consists of circus acts and performances. I was going to say “improvised circus acts”, but this is really more choreographed inspiration, for it takes quite a bit of rehearsal and choreography to make what these folks do on stage come across as improvised. But there is clearly an element of improvisation underlying all of this, for some percentage of the act is playing off the audience, and I get a sense that it changes at every performance. But to give you a sense of what happens in this show, here are some of the scenes we saw:

  • Impersonations
  • Telenovelas
  • Bolshoi Ballet Radioactivo
  • An insanely choreography family picture.
  • A flea circus
  • Ariel Acrobat mishaps
  • A palm-reader act

The entire show is narrated by Tubert’s Pepe Hernandez in a mixture of Spanish and Spanglish. It is understandable to those who do not understand Spanish, but it does takes some work. The show does operate at two levels, which jokes that children will get, and many that have double implications of a more adult nature. The performances are uniformly strong, with Delgado and Dupree out in the audience before the show, playing their characters and flirting with the audience members (especially those producers from over the hill in Hollywood).

The show is inspired; it is indeed a three-ring circus in a low-budget single ring. It is theatrical. But is it theatre?

This, ultimately, is the problem with the show. Artistic director Barbara Beckley works to manage expectations before the show, noting how the originally-scheduled production, Humble Boy, had been in the planning stages for over a year, starting when the theatre was in a strong financial condition. That condition weakened over the year and the costs for Humble Boy proved too high, and so the show needed to be replaced. Barbara found El Grande Circus at the Skylight (FB) in Los Feliz (Hollywood), where it had been getting rave reviews. Moving the show provided the ability to bring an established “hit” to a larger theatre without a lot of expense for dramaturgy, set design, rehearsal, etc. This aspect of the story has been downplayed a bit: the #pro99 community likes to point to El Grande Circus as a shining example of 99-seat moving to paid contracts, but that’s not the reason the show is there. In any case, Barbara lets the regulars know this is a show that was brought in to serve a purpose, and that some subscribers love it, and some hate it.

We enjoyed the show, but we’re odd ducklings of the old theatre audience. The show certainly does not fit the notion of conventional theatre. There really is no character growth. There is no storyline. There is no protagonist or antagonist. There is inspired humor, choreographed improvisation. It is unconventional theatre. We saw audience members around us cracking up in laughter. We saw others totally confused as to what we saw. We also saw loads of younger people in the audience.

The show was enjoyable and fun, and we had a blast seeing it. But was the Colony right in bringing it to their stage? For that question, I’m not sure the answer is “yes”. I think that many of their older subscribers (for, alas, Colony does have an older subscription base) will walk away confused, disappointed that this wasn’t the theatre they were expecting. The younger families and their kids have the other problem — they may love this, and it may make them want to come back to the Colony to see more shows — where they will be disappointed as the Colony returns to its traditional shows, such as the Frank Loesser tuner that is up next. A small percentage of their audience will appreciate why Barbara brought this in, and will be open to the wide variety that theatre can encompass — and will enjoy this for what it is.

Luckily, we’re in that small percentage. We enjoyed Tubert’s Pepe, with his mangled English and Spanish, with his air of sanity in a sane world. We enjoyed the sexy Delgado’s Maria and Dupress’s Consuela: from their flirting with the audience to their performances onstage. We enjoyed Baird’s Miguel and Myers’ Juan (especially in the Ballet scene).

Alan Shearman‘s direction keeps the show moving along, although there were a few points where I wondered how close we were to the end. He did a good job of creating the El Grande characters and personas, and helping the actors inhabit those personas. In a show such as this, that’s really critical, for there is no story to provide the motivation or direction.

On the production side, this was a combination of the normal Colony quality and the elements that made it a success in the much smaller and lower-budget Skylight. The scenic design by John Iacovelli (FB) was simple but effective: big top draping and art that created the image of a worn circus facility. This combined with the properties by Jeff Faeth (FB) to establish the lunacy (such as in the magic act scene, or the aforementioned flea circus). Adding to this were the costumes by Sarah Figoten (FB), which were just… inspired. I particularly enjoyed the adapability of the ladies costumes, as well as the male costumes during the ballet scene. The sound design by Jeff Gardner (FB) worked well, although there were points where there was significant background noise — I don’t know if that was intentional, or someone backstage forgot to turn off their microphone. Jennifer Edwards (FB)’s lighting was effective — particularly the use of the LED lights — in establishing the mood of the situation. Although the show appears improvised, what holds it together is the choreography of Tor Campbell (FB) — nowhere is this more apparent than in the slow-motion replay of the family picture, the Bolshoi Ballet number, or in the voodoo scene. The remaining main production credits are: Christopher Hoffman (FB) [Production Coordinator], Garrett Longley (FB) [Production Stage Manager], Paul Ruddy (FB) [Casting Director]; Rachel Berney Needleman (FB) [Associate Producer]; Gary Grossman (FB) [Producer]. These are all Skylight folks — making clear how this was a production of the Skylight Theatre Company (FB) and Flying Cucumber Productions.

El Grande Circus de Coca Cola continues  at The Colony Theatre (FB) through December 13. Tickets are available through the Colony website; discount tickets are available through Goldstar. I found the show very funny, but if you’re looking for a traditional theatrical book-based show, this might not be to your taste.

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 week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “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 a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar), and for “That Lovin’ Feelin’” at The Group Rep (FB) for January 17 (in case the REP’s delay pushes their first show back to February). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, 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). 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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But It’s In a Middle School. I’m So Confused.

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Dec 02, 2015 @ 7:33 pm PDT

High School Musical (Noble CMS)userpic=nobelLast night, as I was driving the van home from work, I was listening to one of the many podcasts on my iPod. In this case, it was one of the Ensemblist podcasts, specifically one of their rehearsal reports on the soon-to-open The School of Rock. In this report, Jessie Swimm (one of the swings) talked about how they had been doing constant changes to the production throughout tech, and the gypsy run was going to be the first time they had put everything together. I thought about this last night at the Alumni Performance of High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) — which was only the second time (IIRC) that the cast and crew had done a complete run through of the show, after adding in lots of last minute transitions and dealing with technology problems.

Before I go further, you’re probably wondering why I’m attending an alumni performance of a middle school musical. The answer is that my daughter was heavily involved with this program during its first two years, and as I write up all shows, as a drama parent-alumni, we’re considered special. We get to go to the alumni shows, and provide some comments to the cast and crew. What that means for you, dear reader, is that I’m going to operate on the assumption that most of the minor correctable problems that we saw last night will be worked out when the show opens on December 3rd.

I will note, however, that the show has one major uncorrectable problem — which given where it is performed is probably not a problem for most. It is, unfortunately, Disney’s High School Musical. This means we’re dealing with a Made-for-TV musical not originally designed for the stage, and designed specifically for the sort of audience that watches the Disney Channel. I’ll give you an example. As the show opens, we have our two protagonists, Troy and Gabriella, talking about the wonderful person of the opposite sex that they met on school break, and not telling their friends how they were a completely different person away from school… and not realizing they were now at the same school. It was expecting them to start singing “Summer Nights” (but this isn’t Grease). At another point in the show, all the kids are on their telephones exchanging gossip about a budding romance between the main characters. Again — “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie, anyone? The storyline is also quite predictable: not only do our protagonists get to star in the show, but they get to star and excel in their individual activities as well, …. , and all their friends end up coupling with their equivalent in a different clique that they hated before. Yes, a happy ending, but just so Disney.

Oh, what is the plot? MTI, the licensing company, summarizes it as follows: “It’s the first day after winter break at East High. The Jocks, Brainiacs, Thespians and Skater Dudes find their cliques, recount their vacations, and look forward to the new year. Basketball team captain and resident jock Troy discovers that the brainy Gabriella, a girl he met singing karaoke on his ski trip, has just enrolled at East High. They cause an upheaval when they decide to audition for the high school musical, led by Ms. Darbus. Although many students resent the threat posed to the “status quo,” Troy and Gabriella’s alliance might just open the door for others to shine as well.” Here’s the full detailed summary from IMDB. Then again, if you have kids, you’ve probably seen it over and over. You might have even heard the music (I’ll admit that I do have the album — a number of the songs are quite catchy). Who wrote it? According to MTI, the book is by David Simpatico, and the music is by (take a deep breath): Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, Ray Cham, Greg Cham, Drew Seeley, Randy Petersen, Kevin Quinn, Andy Dodd, Adam Watts, Bryan Louiselle, Faye Greenberg, Jamie Houston, and David N. Lawrence.  IMDB credits the original film to Peter Barsocchini.

So you know my opinion of the show. I went in not expecting much from the book. But it is not my expectations that matter. This is High School Musical, after all. It is being presented in a middle school. Parents are not the audience: other kids are. This is just the type of show that the kids will enjoy.  Not just “will”, but “do enjoy”. The other alumni at the show we saw were having loads of fun with the stereotypes and the first kisses and the holding hands. They don’t want deep drama. Kids like fluff, and this will be very popular.

Even if the characters are stereotypes, exaggerating the comical characteristics of each group for humor instead of seeing people as people. Wait, that sounds like the plot of the show. Hmmm.

In any case, the show will succeed if the performances succeed, and this is one case where the enthusiasm of the kids comes through. We were at an early show, but began to see how performances improved as the audience reacted and had fun. We were a small audience. With a full audience of peers, these kids should be great.

One advantage of reviewing a middle school show is that I don’t have to link all the kids names — they won’t have professional pages and you don’t link to a tween or early-teens Facebook. So lets talk about some of the strong points, and just go clique by clique, in program order.

The Cheer Squad consisted of Daniela Johns [Varsity Captain], Harmony Nielsen, Inaya Durfield, Jeannhel Odero, and Taylor Briones. This was a very energetic group of girls who had some strongly athletic moves and flips.

The Jocks consisted of Maddex Tortorici [Troy Bolton], Akshat Bansal [Chad Danforth], Joshua Pereira [Zeke Baylor], Colby Haney, Gannon Ripchick, Jacob Gilliam, Jordan Ellison, and Justin Godinez. The adult “jock”, Coah Bolton, was Kevin Foster. Maddex Tortorici, in his first singing performance, got to play the lead. He actually did a very good job performance-wise, and his duets with Gabriella were quite nice. Also strong was the tall fellow playing his best friend, whom I’m guessing was Akshat Bansal.  Kevin Foster did a great job as the coach.

The “Braniacs” (a horrible word) consisted of Mandi Macias [Gabriella Montez], Payton Blanks [Taylor McKessie], Julia Denny [Martha Cox], Anthony Carmona, Carolyn Lindsay, Isabella Tapia, Jillian Jergensen, Kylie Hamuel, Sarah Borquez, and Thadiel Zancoli. Mandi Macias was great on stage, performing very strongly and having a great voice. I also enjoyed the performances of both Payton Blanks and Julia Denny.

The Thespian Clique consisted of Brooke Kier [Sharpay Evans], Shane Smith [Ryan Evans], Abigail Beck [Kelsi Nielsen], Arno Nizamian, Daniella Jones, Jordyn Lowe, Nareg Hanessian, Natalie Chavez, and Timi Akinsola. The real standout here was Abigail Beck’s performance as Kelsi. She demonstrated a lovely voice and seemed to be really into the role. Brooke Kier was good as Sharpay, but the character as written is a bit overdone, which probably tempered my reaction (translation: she performed it well, but I wasn’t crazy about the character). The reactions of Shane Smith to Brooke were quite fun to watch. The adult teacher, Mr. Barbus, was played (if not overplayed, but again, that’s how it was written) by Sam Katz. Sam captured the intentional comedic aspects of the character well.

The Skater Clique consisted of Adam Jacobsen [Jack Scott], Gavin Riley [Ripper], Amanda Pipolo [Mango], Carlie Birnbaum, Chirstina Povolotsky, Kyle Kaplan, Nina Krassner-Cybulski, and Rana Amet. Adam Jacobsen was fun to watch in the radio booth, and the whole crew did some great acrobatics on stage. Their interaction with the cheerleaders was fun to watch.

The last group was the Wildcat Band, which was actually the award-winning Nobel Drum Line and Advanced Band. They consisted of Anthony Collado, Aurora Torres, Benjamin Maines, Brandon Azoy, Christina Sottile, Gabrielle Martinez, Gilberto Cornejo, Iman Khan, Kenny Ceron, Moises Sabido, Noah Chisom, Owen Jennings, Scott Robinson, Spencer Mandel, Travis Jackson, and Venessa Villegas. It was a joy to see these musicians there — I strongly believe in live music where ever possible. I encourage Nobel to seriously consider incorporating the music department into these productions. It really does make a difference.

I’ll note there was some very good performances of songs, especially in the large group numbers. There were also some wonderful dance moves. I still think Nobel does remarkable shows for a middle school. This year seemed a bit of a building year, with a lot of new performers who are just starting to grow. That’s fine — this is a middle school, after all, and these kids aren’t professionals. But they are learning wonderful skills that will serve them whatever their careers, and they deserve our support.

Turning to the production credits: The set design was by Ben Tiber, and worked really well — lots of welded steel and steps and risers, with clever integration of backdrops to establish place. I’m guessing the Wildcat costumes were rented, given their quality and the pinning on the back. The remaining costumes, which I’m sure the students created, worked well to establish their character’s looks. Kat Delancey was the music director. Choreography was by Carolyn Doherty and Midison Tilner. Prop Coordinator was Kamille Flack. Lighting Designer was Artur Cybulski. There are loads of additional production and crew credits, so I’m only going to list the traditionally listed ones: Vivian Chu was the Stage Manager, and Jaden Weinstein was the House Manager. The production was directed by Fanny Araña, Carolyn Doherty, and Ryan Wynott.

High School Musical runs at Nobel Middle School in Northridge through Saturday, December 5th. Should you go see it? If you have a tween or a teen — go. They’ll enjoy it, and they’ll get a kick about the quality that can come from their peers. If you’re not connected to the youth of American, it still is worth seeing — if you can get over the fact it is HSM— just to see the quality that can come out of a middle school that is actually not a performing arts magnet. This is all parents and volunteers and dedicated teachers, working with dedicated students, that create the magic. So, translation: yeah, go see it, even if it is HSM.

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: December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4) — this is a middle school that does surprisingly good productions (although we may be biased a little — our daughter was there for the first two years of their program). It is followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December has “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and Nunsense at Crown City Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the Repertory East Playhouse (“the REP”) (FB) schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “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 a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, 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). 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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Jews and Christmas

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 29, 2015 @ 7:03 pm PDT

The Jew Who Saved Christmas (Zombie Joes)userpic=chanukah-christmasIt’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, and you know what that means. That’s right: it is full-contact Christmas season. We’re inundated with the “Black Friday” emails, the Christmas music is everywhere, the Christmas specials are on every TV channel, and, of course, A Christmas Carol and Elf: The Musical are on the stages. Now, I’m Jewish, which means that it is time for 30 days of suffering through all of these. So why would I voluntarily subject myself to a Christmas-themed play — especially one that wasn’t part of a subscription? The answer is that the synopsis sounded fascinating. What would you think if you got a show that was described as follows:

When Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve, all Larry Epstein wants to do is eat Chinese food, watch movies and hide from the holidays. But when Christmas is threatened and lives are in peril, Larry is forced by the people in his life to be the Jew that saves Christmas!

Making this even more interesting was the fact that it was being done by Zombie Joes Underground (FB), a theatre better known for doing shows that had a dark, perhaps slightly macabre, element. Joe’s shows run only an hour, so I was curious about how this amalgam would turn out.

The answer, at least based on what we just saw, is pretty good, and not the ZJU fare we’ve come to expect. It was funny. It was cute. It was well performed. It wasn’t religious, nor did it hit you over the head with an ecumenical plot. It didn’t overstay its plot. It didn’t In short, it was enjoyable for a Christmas show.

The story, as described in the advertising blurb above, centered around Larry Epstein. Larry was the typical Jew who got turned off of the holiday by (a) sharing a birthday with Jesus, and (b) having a relationship go south on Christmas. This relationship was with a non-Jew, which also made the relationship with his parents go further south at the same time (because he never told them about it). Also involved with Larry was Lilith, his atheist lesbian roommate. All the two of them want to do is get their Chinese Food and hide from the world.

Of course, this being a comedy developed in the land of sitcoms, that was not to happen. They are constantly interrupted by the stream of neighbors: Rabbi Reuben, who keeps wondering why Larry hasn’t been to shul; Mary, the Christian neighbor who just loves the holidays and has the hots for Larry; Alex, an evangelical that is trying to share the religious meaning of Christmas. Each provides an opportunity for humorous exposition and exploration of Larry’s back character, allowing us to understand why Larry is the way he is (and, after meeting Mr. and Mrs. Epstein in a flashback, seeing why his relationship with Sally went south). Eventually, we get to the meat of the story, which is related by the last visitors: Rodney, “Naughty ‘n’ Nice”, and Sandy: there is an even more ancient character (Krampus) who wants to destroy Christmas, and Larry is the prophesied Jew who will save the holiday. The resolution from that point on is cute, non-religious, and reasonably funny. I’d say that the overall message is that love conquers all, but that really isn’t what does the conquering.

Jew that Saved Christmas - Publicity PhotosThe show isn’t perfect — it does build on quite a few stereotypes, such as Jews eating Chinese on Christmas Eve, the Jewish mother, and particularly, the Orthodox-style Jewish rabbi as seen on sitcoms. I was initially bothered by these, but the fun of the story led me to overlook them. Sitcoms, such as this story, depend on slight over-exaggeration and quick conveyance of archetypes through stereotypes. As it was all done in humor, this gets a pass.

There was also some singing (and I enjoyed the pre-show music — there are some rock versions of Christmas songs I’ve never heard).  As part of the show, there was the Rabbi singing a number of verses from Light One Candle (by Peter, Paul, and Mary). It is interesting to see a modern PP&M song become part of the holiday canon (of course, equal time should be given to Christmas Dinner — which should be made into a show).

Andy Shultz/FB, the writer and director, kept the presentation light and playful. He seemed to ensure the cast was having fun with the presentation. He used the device of having the roommate, Lilith, serve as narrator in a seeming mix of recorded and live (the “recorded” may have been live, but just over the speakers). Zombie Joes is a theatre that seemingly operates on a shoestring and excels in creativity on that budget, and Shultz seemed to bring out the creativity in the actors and their performances.

In the lead positions of this story were Adam Neubauer (FB) as Larry and Kyle Marie Colucci (FB) as Lilith. Neubauer came across as very down to earth; the sort of non-determinate lapsed-Jew college-student type that we all have as a friend. He seemed to capture the character well. Colucci was his roommate (with a very cute sweatshirt: “Dyke the Halls”) who played off of Neubauer quite well.

In the “continuing character” positions (i.e., those that appeared in more than one scene) were: David Wyn Harris (FB) as Mike, Larry’s best friend who also had the hots for Larry’s mom; Caroline Muniak (FB) as Mary, the next door neighbor; and Deirdre Anderson (FB) as Mrs. Epstein. Harris had a good interplay with Neubauer; this isn’t a surprise as it appears they’ve worked together quite a few times at ZJU. He captured the annoying friend vibe quite well. I really enjoyed Muniak’s Mary — not only was the performance fun to watch and a little over the top, but Muniak herself was quite fun to watch in it 😉 ). Anderson captured the Jewish mother vibe well, including the guilt aspects. She also captured, in her second scene, the oversexed single Jewish mother well (making Mike’s attraction understandable).

Rounding out the cast were Derrick Brooks/FB as Rodney, the elf who informed Larry of his mission; Jennifer Nwene (FB) as “Naughty ‘n’ Nice”, the oversexed elf’s assistant who got Larry’s attention; Brady Glasser as the other elf assistant, Sandy, as well as Alex the evangelical; Bonnyjean Hoffert (FB) as Kelly, the entity out to destroy Christmas, and as Sally, Larry’s ex-girlfriend; and Tom Jones/FB as Rabbi Reuben and Mr. Epstein. Brooks was good as the stereotypical humorous elf; he had the right attitude for the role and a playfulness that came across well. Nwene’s role was much smaller; more of an eye-candy position, but she did what she could with it. Glasser was interesting — a sort of nebbish evangelical (an odd combination), and an elf who seemed to be more in the background as Sandy. Hoffert was fun to watch in both her roles: As Sally, she had a playfulness that came across well (especially when she was attacking Larry in a good way); as Kelly, she was having fun with her evil-ness (again, especially when she was attacking Larry). Lastly, I’ve already commented about Jones’ performance as the Rabbi (which wasn’t his fault — it was written that way). I’ll note instead that he captured the Jewish father well.

I’d say that Zombie Joes doesn’t skim on production values, except that they do. This isn’t a bad thing: it forces creativity in many ways. Their sets are simple; their lights are clip-on reflector bulbs on normal extension cords. But the overall creativity comes across, and they worked for this show. There were a few times where it seemed that cast was waiting on the lighting to catch up, but it wasn’t a significant problem. Production credits: Lights and sound: Kristen Maxie/FB; ZJU General Manager: Adam Neubauer (FB); Stage Manager: Vincent Miller/FB; Assistant Directors: Kristen Maxie/FB and Vincent Miller/FB; ZJU webmaster and online PR manager: Randy Long (FB). The Jew That Saved Christmas was produced by Zombie Joe.

Now for the obligatory Zombie Joe comment, which I seem to make every time I visit Zombie Joe’s: their website. Sigh. Their website design, which looks like an old Homestead website because it is an old Homestead website, is truly stuck in the early 1990s era of web design, with a flashy and garish background, poor organization, and what looks to be a non-responsive design. Just as I need to update my highways site, they need to update theirs. Their productions are so good, that their website shouldn’t look so amateurish. So, Mr. Randy Long. You’re their webmaster. Please make their site better — ZJU deserves it.

The Jew That Saved Christmas continues on Sunday afternoons at 3 PM through December 20, 2015. It’s a cute show, and quite funny. It runs 1 hour, without an intermission.  Tickets are available online, or you can call ZJU at 818/202-4120.

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: December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4) — this is a middle school that does surprisingly good productions (although we may be biased a little — our daughter was there for the first two years of their program). It is followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December is held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the REP schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9; “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 a “hold” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, 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). 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 Much Would You Be Willing to Pay for a Cheap Vacation?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Nov 22, 2015 @ 10:28 am PDT

Timeshare (Eclectic Company Theatre)userpic=theatre2If you’ve ever walked down the Las Vegas Strip or along a beachfront walk in Hawaii, you’ve run into them: the salescritters in the little booths, enticing you to come and see a timeshare presentation. In exchange for your time, you’ll get something valuable: tickets to a Vegas show, tickets to a luau, a flat screen TV, a free vacation. Perhaps you’ve succumbed to their offer. Perhaps you’ve gone to a free show. Perhaps your the lucky owner of a timeshare now.

I can say this as the owner of a timeshare, although not one I purchased personally. Back in the mid-1970s, my parents purchased an interval at one of the first timeshares in Maui, the Whaler on Kaanapali Beach. While they were alive they went regularly, or rented it out. I was there for my honeymoon, and regularly went with them in high school and early college days. I inherited it after they died, and have been there… once (this year, for my 30th wedding anniversary). Why? The primary reason is cost: although staying there is free (well, it really isn’t: you have HOA dues), getting there is not. Airfare for two to Hawaii, plus rental car, adds up fast. So the years we haven’t gone we’ve exchanged our interval, usually for someplace in driving distance (Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Tucson, Escondido, Sedona). The first time we exchanged for Las Vegas, we did exactly what most people do: went on a timeshare sales presentation to get tickets to a show. This is so common there are loads of websites talking about the tactics that timeshare salescritters use (and here), and how to get your free stuff for free (example, example, example, example), and most importantly, how to say “no”. So, when I was at The Colony Theatre (FB) recently, and picked up a postcard with the following description, I was intrigued:

Trying to change his life and save his marriage, Tom takes a job as a timeshare salesman. He learns the latest sales techniques, and hypes himself up several times a day with the “One Minute Sales Talk”. As he struggles with his learning curve and the ethics of the Timeshare industry, he is tricked and threatened by his co-workers, harangued by his boss, and seduced by the sexiest salesperson of all. Tom perseveres, learning new sales skills and maybe even a new career. However, just as he begins to become a competent salesperson, a disgruntled Customer pulls a gun, shoots the sales manager, and takes the Timeshare showroom hostage. Tom must now use his new sales skills to convince the gunman to let everyone live. It’s life and death capitalism, and now Tom must close this big sale, or die.

I was so intrigued I hunted down tickets (hmmm, succumbed for the sales pitch); thus, last night saw me at The Eclectic Company Theatre (FB) for a performance of their new comedy, Timeshare, written and directed by Steve B. Green (FB) [who we last saw onstage in “Green Grow the Lilacs].

The store of Timeshare is pretty much as detailed in the pitch above. In the first act, we’re introduced Tom, his Sales Manager Frank, and his co-workers in the New Jersey sales office: Jack, the fast talking salesman more interested in telling stories of his sexual conquests; Christine, the New Jersey “goil”  who has learned how to use sex and attitude to close sales; and Mike, the ex-jock co-worker more interested in getting a timeshare of Christine. We’re also introduced to the tactics of the industry. We see these tactics  in how salescritters are motivated both by team pep talks and individual sales talks in front of a mirror. We also see them in a series of vignettes with customers coming in and being “sold” by salesman, to varying degrees. These customers include a couple clearly there only to receive the flat-screen TV — antagonistically so (Martin and Maria); a single mother cashier with her baby (Tiffany); an older couple where she is interested (because of what she can wear), but her husband is a realist and only sees the cost (Ira and Melanie); a couple of New Jersey playas (Bart and Amy); and an older couple where she would love to travel, and he is pressured (Neil and Gretchen). What the salescritters don’t know is that Neil has just been “downsized”, and the pressure of the sales presentation causes him to snap (Falling Down” style), pull out a gun, and shoot the sales manager and one of the customers. Thus endeth Act I. Act II consists of the sales staff working to convince Neil to give himself up. It’s hard to describe, but it permits one to see these people bettter. Most importantly, it provides the opportunity for Tom (who is the lead character in all of this) to grow as a salesman.

Before going into the performances, let’s assess the book and its realization by the director. In general, I liked the story quite a bit: it reflected my experience with timesale sales presentations quite well, and had a large number of very funny lines (none of which I can remember this morning, alas (thank you Mr. Migraine)).  The problems — and I usually don’t say this — were primarily directoral. I felt the interstitial music between the various scenes in Act I was overdone and cheesy (this isn’t a book problem; it’s a directoral decision), and made the scenes come across more as a sitcom or an episodic cartoon (think the scenes with the Sheriff and Bart in Blazing Saddles). It would have been much better to just have silence there. I was also unsure whether there might have been one too many individual customer scenes. Two could have been combined (perhaps with different salescritters). They just seem to go on a pinch long, although I can see storywise why they were there and what they were showing. This could have just been due to the transition style.

Additionally, the pep talks had some staging problems. It wasn’t clear, especially in the beginning, that the talks in front of a mirror in the bathroom were in a bathroom; they initially came across more as a talk to the audience. This could have been addressed through better scenic design; lacking that, some performance queues (such as combing hair, washing hands) might suffice. The group pep talks had the sales manager walking away from the sales staff and walking up and facing the audience, which suspended the belief that it was a pep talk. Judicious rearrangement and restaging could have made it so both the sales manager and the sales team were partially facing the audience. The second act seem to have resolved the staging and pacing problems (except for the final pep talk, which had the problem above).

The problems noted above weren’t major failures — they certainly didn’t make the show bad or unwatchable. But they created some unnecessary distractions that — at least to this untrained layperson — could have been corrected with a little tweaking.

Whatever the staging problems, the performances more than made up for it. In the lead was the handsome and personable Tony Pauletto (FB). Pauletto played the role with charm, and really came across as a down-on-his-luck man who grabbed at the timeshare sales opportunity, but really didn’t want to be there (and didn’t have the salesman in him). This is something I related to, as the ability to do sales is a skill that I don’t have. It was interesting to watch how the actor transformed over the course of the evening into a real salesperson. I would say that indicates there is hope for those of us who can’t do sales, but I wouldn’t consider being transformed into a salescritter necessarily a good thing 😃.

As Tom, the hard-sell sales manager, Jon Mullich (FB) was fun to watch. I had been familiar with Mullich solely from his wonderful artwork he had been posting to the pro99 group on Facebook (examples here); by lucky happenstance this show provided the opportunity to meet him and see him on stage. Mullich has quite a skill with comedy and comedy movement: watch him twitching in Act II after he has been shot. He was also able to do a nice turn of character, as demonstrated when he pivoted from his manic salesman mode to being a loving father. In short, he was very fun to watch. Hopefully, I’ll see him more (and not just on Facebook) — I had never connected that he was the evil mastermind behind USS Pinafore that I had seen quite a few years ago at Crown City.

The remaining timeshare salescritters were Sarmarie Klein (FB) [Christine], Kerr Lordygan (FB) [Jack]; and Travis Quentin (FB) [Mike]. Klein’s Christine was pure New Joisey, down to the accent and the attitude. She was a delight to watch, especially how she used her sexuality and looks to play and manipulate both the other salescritters and the customers (as an aside, I’ve never been able to understand how women can cross their legs that tight or wear heels that high — it must be horribly uncomfortable). Her interactions with all the salescritters were well played, and it was interesting to see how she was able to bring out the different personalities when talking to Tom (who she was sexually interested in) vs. Mike (who she clearly wasn’t) vs. Jack (who she just seemed to not see). Lordygan I’ve known from the pro99 Facebook group; it was nice to see him on stage. He had the sexually-obsessed slime role down well; he made you believe that you would want to wash your hands after meeting him. Well played. Quentin’s Mike came across as the typical jock interested in only one thing; it was hard to see why he was there as he appeared to have a worse sales technique than Tom.

Most of the customers that we meet are caricatures, archetypes of the types of folks that frequent timeshare presentations. The only ones we really get to know are Bart and Amy (Zachary Davidson (FB) and Madelyne Heyman (FB)) and Neil and Gretchen (Paul Messinger (FB) and Marbry Steward).  Davidson and Heyman were the playas, putting on a gangster attitude.  They captured this well in both style and dress (although I have no idea how one can move in a skirt that tight), which made the ending transformation quite endearing. The two made a believable couple. [As an aside, I hadn’t noticed Madelyne’s last name before, and now wonder if she’s connected to the Heyman side of my father’s family — although based on her FB page, I don’t know of any family in her hometown. If she reads this and is connected to the Heyman’s from New York, let me know]  Messinger and Steward were essentially the antagonists of the story (well, Messinger’s Neil was); they essentially drive the transformation of Tom’s character. Messinger captured the downtrodden downsized worker well: he personified a character who believably snapped, and then found himself in a situation he was unprepared for. His reactions as he tried to cope with that situation were great to watch, although the ending was perhaps predictable as there wasn’t a good alternative resolution. Perhaps that was a writing problem (there should have been a possible other out, making the ending more poignant and more of a commentary on where society is taking us); nevertheless, Messinger portrayed it well. Steward’s role was smaller but equally important: she represented the anchor to Messenger’s breakdown. She captured that slightly kooky new-age anchor well, and provided wonderful voice-acting in the latter parts of Act II.

As noted earlier, the other customers appeared only in the vignettes in Act I: Maria and Martin (Victoria Yvonne Martinez (FB) and Gerard Marzilli (FB)), the customers only there for the flat-screen TV; Ira and Melanie (David Datz (FB) and Randi Tahara (FB) [understudy for JC Henning (FB)]), the older couple where she was interested in the travel, but he was the realist interested in the cost; and Tiffany (Alyssa LeBlanc (FB)), the single-mother cashier. Of these, two stand out in my memory: Martinez was wonderful as the no-nonsense Maria, focused not on the sales pitch but on the flat-screen; and Tahara’s Melanie, who was going along with her husband only for the fashion she could wear.

Understudies († indicates they had non-understudy roles) were: Alyssa LeBlanc (FB)† [Christine]; David Datz (FB)† [Neil]; Gerard Marzilli (FB)† [Jack], Zack Pappas [Bart / Martin]; and MZ Runyan [Tiffany].

On the production and technical side…. the set design by Marco De Leon (FB) worked reasonably well in portraying a timeshare office, given intimate theatre budgets. I had only two notes with respect to it. First, the backstage access to the restroom needed better camouflage,  as seeing either the door or the ladder was disconcerting, if not distracting. Second, as noted earlier, the design could have established the bathroom a little better: just the top of a bathroom faucet and a “Lave su manos” sign was insufficient. The sound design by MZ Runyan was good, although the volume of the intermission music was a little loud. The lighting design by Yancey Dunham (FB) worked well to establish scene and mood; I’ll note that Leko that was illuminating the bathroom seemed to have a little flicker. Poster and postcard design was by MZ Runyan and must have been effective — it brought me in 😄. Program design was by Jon Mullich (FB), who I thank for including actor URLs (although there is a typo in Marco’s URL). Other production credits: Music Compilation – Maureen L. O’Connell; Music/Sound Editing – Edwin Stauss; Propmaster – Victoria Yvonne Martinez (FB); Production Advisor – JC Henning (FB); Production Stage Manager – MZ Runyan; Producers – Steven B. Green (FB) and Rochelle Perry (FB).

Timeshare – A Dark Comedy continues at The Eclectic Company Theatre (FB) through December 13. Tickets are available by calling (818) 508-3003 or visiting the Eclectic Company Ticketing Website. There are no discount tickets on LA Stage Tix, but may be available through Goldstar. I found the show enjoyable; you might as well.

Valley Village Discovery of Note: A block away from the theatre I discovered an intriguing music venue: Kulak’s Woodshed (FB), which appears to be a music venue for songwriter/artists to perform and have their performances webcast. In a sense it is like McCabes (FB) or Boulevard Music (FB), but smaller and seemingly for the more up-and-coming. It looks like someplace I’ll want to keep an eye on (as it is much closer, at least time-wise). It also seems to fit the spirit of Woodsongs (FB)’s  Woodsong Coffeehouse movement — they should connect there to get some additional publicity. On the other side of Eclectic Company is the wonderful Russian Dacha (FB) restaurant — we ate there before Uncle Vanya, and it was great to eat there again.

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: The last weekend of November sees us back at Zombie Joes Underground (FB) for the intriguingly-titled “The Jew That Saved Christmas“. December starts with High School Musical at Nobel Middle School (FB) (running December 1-4), followed by “El Grande Circus de Coca-Cola” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on December 5. During the week I become a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). The weekend after the conference sees us at the NoHo Arts Center (FB) for Theatre 68 (FB)’s production of Who Killed Santa?, which sounded so warped as to be either extremely funny or extremely stupid– should be fun to watch! The third weekend of December brings the touring company of “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). The last weekend of December is held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). I’m just starting to plan 2016 — I’ve been waiting on the REP schedule. So far, January shows “Bullets Over Broadway” at the Pantages (FB) on January 9, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on January 30. There are also “holds” (i.e., dates blocked, but awaiting ticketing) for “Louis and Keeley – Live at the Sahara” at The Geffen Playhouse (FB) for either January 2 or 16 (pending tickets on Goldstar) and “Stomp” at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) (pending confirmation we’re doing a mini-subscription). There is currently nothing on the schedule for February, but February 28 has a hold for 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) (pending confirmation we’re doing a mini-subscription). 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). 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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