Observations Along the Road

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

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 13, 2017 @ 5:07 pm PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 07, 2017 @ 10:25 pm PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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Finding Inner Strength | “The Curious Incident” @ Ahmanson

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 06, 2017 @ 11:40 am PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Shows:

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

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

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

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Coming Together, Coming Apart | “The Last 5 Years” @ Actors Co-op Too!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 30, 2017 @ 8:06 am PDT

The Last 5 Years (Actors Co-Op)This has been a weekend of love. Friday night we saw a Shakespearean celebration of love through the eyes of Galt MacDermot and John Guare: Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Musical (nee “A Grand New Musical”). Last night (Saturday), we saw a different sort of celebration: The Last 5 Years by Jason Robert Brown (FB) at Actors Co-op (FB) today, part of the Actors Co-Op’s Actors Co-Op Too! summer series — a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

If I had the choice of a musical to see, The Last 5 Years would not be it. I’ve seen it three times before: 2016 at ACT San Francisco; 2006 at REP East; and 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse. It is one of those musicals that gets trotted out when you need an inexpensive two-hander; it is a great showcase for two actor-singers. But for an audience member, it is unclear what the different versions bring. So why see it again? Partially because it was offered to subscribers, and I’m all about value and getting my subscription dollar’s worth. Partially because I view it as a salami and eggs show: it is a reference dish that is a good test of a theatre.

The Last Five Years is a simple show in terms of story: there are two actors, and they rarely appear together. The show tells the story of the relationship between Jamie and Cathy. Cathy’s version of the relationship story is told backwards: from the breakup to when they meet. Jamie version is forward: from when they meet to the breakup. They are only together at the middle (the marriage) and the last scene (but that time their songs are separate). The story alternates between the two stories, and from it the audience gets the story.

Given this structure, the storytelling depends on two things: the performance and the music. Jason Robert Brown (FB)’s music has the JRB romantic musical sound (i.e., you’ll find that The Bridges of Madison County has a similar sound): deep, lush, emotive, and at times playful. There are some very beautiful songs in L5Y; there are some very funny songs; and there are some very poignant songs. It is a test of the actor-singer who must convey everything through performance and voice. This is especially true in the small theatre where the lushness of the score is reduced by simplification to a single keyboard.

My reaction to the Actors Co-op production of The Last 5 Years was mixed. I really liked Claire Adams (FB)’s Cathy. I felt she brought a wonderful sense of performance and character to the role, and I enjoyed her singing. This is the third time we’ve seen Adams; we saw her previously in both Lucky Stiff and A Funny Thing…Forum. In this show, her face was a delight to watch and wonderfully expressive; her body language was real; her comedy adept. I enjoyed her singing voice, and didn’t notice any significant problems. A cousin who came with me — who has had some professional vocal training — did notice some. Setting aside her comments on “Broadway voice”, she did note that the singing was done in a way that was more tiring to the vocal cords; looking back, I can see that the voice was more tired near the end. So, as this is a workshop production and thus desirous of constructive comments, my one suggestion for the actress would be to work on that: she has a great voice, and learning how to use it in a way that doesn’t expose it to strain can only be a good thing. But I really enjoyed the performance aspects — it brought some wonderful insights and views of the character that I hadn’t seen before. This was apparent from the “get-go” in the opening number, “Still Hurting”, where you could see the real emotion coming through in the staging. It continued through her numbers — all of which were great.

On the other hand, there was Dorian Keyes (FB)’s Jamie. Sigh. I mean, I was rooting for him, as a fellow software engineer. After all, this is a guy that with other computer science friends started a production company called Nerd Squad. Further, although not shown in the program (but discovered doing this writeup), he’s played the character a few months before this outing. So he should have been much better. The main problem: he just didn’t give off the vibe that made him believable as the character. That is, he didn’t strike me as particularly New York Jewish (which Jamie is clearly), nor was he believable as a writer and author. Nowhere was this problem clearer than in “The Schmuel Song”, which has become a classic Jewish character story-song. His focus was on the cheesy Christmas tree; he didn’t bring Schmuel to life — there was no sense of being in that tailor shop in Clemovich. To me, his voice was a bit generic and lacking the character I like to see come through in a voice (the reason I love folks like Susan Egan or Kate Baldwin). My cousin characterized his voice as mediocre — it needs more training to develop character and strength and depth. I think, overall, I’m not saying that he was bad — because he wasn’t. A better characterization is … non-descript. His performance wasn’t the “Wow! 🎆” that Jamie needs to be. He was average on the edge of good; but when contrasted with the powerhouse portrayal of Cathy from Adams, there was no shine to the star. In terms of workshop constructive criticism: this is actor that needs some more seasoning on the acting and singing side. The bones of a good performer are there, but a greater variety of roles, with directors who can help him find the depth to bring it out, and vocal coaches to help mature and strengthen his voice (as well as discovering how to bring character to that voice) will help in the long run.

This production was directed by Laura Manchester (FB). I’ve always said that I have difficulty telling where what an actor brings stops and what the director brings starts. That’s certainly true here. Manchester produced the background film used as part of the scenic design, as aside from one faux paus I’ll mention in a bit, that was excellent. Manchester’s direction of Adams as Cathy was strong and on-point. But with respect to Keyes, it was weaker — and again, this came across clearly in “The Schmuel Song”, where seemingly the character’s focus was setting up the Christmas Tree (an incongruous thing for a Jewish person to do), and not the charm of the story song. It may have been a casting issue; her FB (discovered while writing this) shows she was having some difficulty casting the role, so this could simply have been the problem of finding the right actor, and that actor having the right connection with both the director and the story. The director also had to contend with the nature of the theatre space used. Every other production I’ve seen of this show has been proscenium based: the actors on a stage surrounded by a proscenium, separated from the audience. This production used the Crossly Theatre space, which is a “theatre in the round” space with the audience on three sides. Manchester used that space well, bringing the actors forward and interacting with the audience on all sides; she also used the entry and exit arches to good effect.

Musical direction was by Taylor Stephenson (FB), who did a fine job on the keyboard, and interacted well with Adams’ Cathy during the audition scenes.

On the production side: The scenic design by Nicholas Acciani (FB) had a number of bookcase boxes and other props in the back, and incorporated multiple small projection screens for which Nicholas Acciani (FB) provided the projection design and Laura Manchester (FB) provided the content. This mostly worked quite well, except in the “I Can Do Better Than That” scene. The problem there? The actors are facing forward, playing the scene as if they were driving in the direction of the front center audience. So, from the audience perspective, they are looking through the front windshield at the actors, and the projections should have been reflecting what is seen in the rear window. But instead, the projections were as if the car was driving in the direction the audience was facing. In other words: The view was as if that actors were driving the car in reverse without even looking over their rear shoulders. This was an unnecessary video disconnect that brought the audience out of the moment (or at least this roadgeek out of moment); it was also something easily avoidable simply by doing a 180° with the camera during the car filming (i.e., point it backwards).

But that was the only production-side flaw. The lighting design of Savannah Harrow (FB) and the sound design by Maddie Felgentreff (FB) both worked well, establishing mood and focusing attention. There was no credit for costume design: presumably this came from either the director or the actor’s closets. Adams’ costumes were great and fit the character well (plus she did some wonderful quick costume changes); Keyes’ costumes were often a bit informal for the type of author this character purported to be. Savannah Harrow (FB)  was the stage manager; the production was produced by Selah Victor (FB) and Laura Manchester (FB).

The Last 5 Years (which this production appears to write out as The Last Five Years, just as they change Kathy to Cathy) continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through August 5th, with remaining performances on July 30 at 2:30pm, August 4 at 8:00pm. August 5 at 2:30pm and 8:00pm. Tickets are a suggested donation starting at $10 and FREE to all 2017-2018 Season Subs. Visit their website www.actorsco-op.org or call the box office at 323-462-8460 to reserve your seat.

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

Upcoming Shows:

August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) [although a little birdie … OK, Nance from Chromolume whom I saw at The Last Five Years, indicated the dates on that are shifting out to November]. There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). October is also filling up quickly, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), a tribute to Ray Charles — To Ray With Love — also at the Valley Performing Arts Center (FB), and Bright Star at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking into November, we have The Man Who Came to Dinner at Actors Co-op (FB), the Nottingham (FB) and Tumbleweed (FB) Festivals, a Day Out with Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB), Spamilton at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) and Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

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

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Love Has Driven Me Sane | “Two Gentlemen of Verona” @ FPAC

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 29, 2017 @ 3:33 pm PDT

Two Gentlemen of Verona - The Musical (FPAC)If you were to ask me what my absolute favorite musical was — that is, the one musical that was guaranteed to leave me happy and feeling good upon hearing the score — it would be the 1972 Tony-award winning Two Gentlemen of Verona written by William Shakespeare, adapted by John Guare and Mel Shapiro, with lyrics by John Guare and music by Galt MacDermot, originally presented by the New York Shakespeare Festival (now the Public Theatre). I saw it back in 1973 when I was just 13 at the Ahmanson, with Jonelle Allen, Clifton Davis (FB), Stockard Channing, and Larry Kert, and much of the original NY cast (including a young Katey Sagal). I hadn’t seen it since — aside from one production in Central Park in 2005, I can’t recall hearing of it being revived. I certainly can’t recall it being produced in Los Angeles since the original. So when my RSS feed from Goldstar alerted me to the fact that a theatre company I had never heard of — the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FB) — was producing the show and we were in the middle weekend of a three weekend production, the question was not “if”, but whether I could fit it in. After all, next weekend I already had two shows (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and On The Twentieth Century), and I already had a show on Saturday night of this weekend. Luckily, the show was nearby in San Fernando, so I got tickets for last night. Even though I had a slight headache, I’m very glad that I did. It was a delight to see my favorite show again, and as always, it left me very happy and with a smile on my face. I wish more companies would remember this show: it is sheer fun, multicultural, with a diverse cast great for schools, wonderful dance, pretty milkmaids, and a dog. It will live you loving it, and loving love.

If you aren’t familiar with Two Gentlemen of Verona, here’s the quick summary: TGOV is considered to be Shakespeare’s first play, and falls into the comedy category, because everyone falls in love at the end (as opposed to tragedies, where everyone dies). Valentine and Proteus are best friends. Proteus is infatuated with Julia, a local girl in Verona; Valentine scoffs at love and wants adventure in the big city, Milan. Valentine, with his servant Speed, heads off to Milan, while Proteus, helped by his servant Launce, courts Julia (and her servent Lucetta). But soon Proteus’s father sends him off to Milan, leaving Julia behind (and pregnant). She and Lucette dress up as men so they can travel to Milan and tell Proteus. In Milan, however, Valentine has found love in the form of Sylvia, the daughter of the Emperor of Milan. However, the Emperor has send Sylvia’s love, Eglamour, off to war, while arranging a marriage for Sylvia to a rich fool, Thurio. Sylvia detests Thurio, and enlists Valentine to save her. Proteus, who by now has forgotten Julia and is also smitten by Sylvia, learns of the plot and tells the Duke, who promptly sends Valentine off to war. Proteus then enlists two young men, Sebastian (nee Julia) and Cesario (nee Lucetta), to help court Sylvia. Eglamour returns to kidnap Sylvia, and everyone then joins in the hunt for Sylvia. Proteus discovers the lovers in the forest, but so does Valentine, and a sword fight ensues. When the dust has cleared, Proteus has discovered Sebastian’s reality and condition, and ends up marrying her. Eglamour is gone, and Valentine gets Sylvia. Thurio gets Lucetta, and Launce finds that a milkmaid from the field is better than a dog. Cupid is happy.

Two Gentlemen of Verona @ FPAC - CastThe musical version takes this story and just has fun with it. In an era of lily-white shows and lily-white casting, this show (like Hair before it) was gloriously multicultural. In the original cast, Proteus and Julia were Hispanic; Sylvia, Valentine, and the Duke were Black; Speed and Eglamour were Asian, Launce was old-Jewish, and Thurio and Lucetta were white. The casting of this production was similarly multicultural, although the hispanic emphasis of the leads was a bit less (the only place it made a difference was in the pronunciation, and truthfully, only people that had memorized the cast album like me would have noticed).

Under the direction of Timothy Jon Borquez (FB) (who seems to have been similarly enamored of this show), the action  was constant. He seemed to be emphasizing the fun of the production; there were few performers that had “painted on” faces — their happiness with this show was infectious to the audience. The direction brought out the playfulness in the characters — and this show is all about play. It is also worth noting that the material Borquez was working with — that is, his cast — were mostly younger actors (nary a resume on Backstage or Actors Access). They weren’t at the level of “fresh-outs” from high school, but they also weren’t seasoned Broadway professionals. Most are still theatre students. Broadly, there was a need for a bit more power in the voices. The raw talent overall was great and there was excellent vocal quality that shown through (as noted below) — just a bit more reach to the back of the auditorium was needed.

The best friends at the heart of this show were Proteus and Valentine, played by Steven Brogan (FB) and Jared Grimble (FB), respectively. Brogan had fun with Proteus (as the pictures show), really getting into the character. He had a wonderful voice that occasionally could use a little extra strength, but overall was a joy to listen to. He was great in numbers like “Symphony” and “What Does a Lover Pack?”, but needed a bit more anger behind “Calla Lily Lady”. We’ve seen Brogan before, it turns out, in the CSUN production of Bat Boy, The Musical. As Valentine, Grimble was similar: fun with the acting, believable in his character, and a remarkable voice. He was no Clifton Davis (but who is), but brought a wonderful style to numbers like “Love’s Revenge” and “Mansion”.

The object d’amour in Verona was Julia, played by Sarah Borquez (FB), and her servent, Lucetta, played by Hope English/FB. We may have seen Borquez before; her name comes up as being in a production of Into The Woods we saw at Nobel Middle School, but the years don’t fit the credits. In any case, Borquez was a strong performer and had a lovely singing voice. She just needs a bit more anger behind the loveliness in numbers like “I Am Not Interested in Love” and “What a Nice Idea”. English also had a great voice which astounded during “Land of Betrayal”.

Sylvia was portrayed by Beth Redwood/FB). Redwood had a strong voice from the opening number, and continued with that strength throughout the show. She also danced wonderfully, and captured the nature of Sylvia well. Her only weakness was costuming, which could have used a tad more support.

Proteus’ and Valentine’s servants, Launce and Speed, were portrayed by Wayne Remington/FB and Erin Arredondo/FB, respectively. Remington gets the slightly larger role here, getting to mug with the dog Gio (playing Crab), singing “Pearls”, and, at the end, getting to sing “Milkmaid”. Arredondo’s Speed mostly is a foil for Launce, but gets to join him in “Hot Lover”. Both appeared to be having quite a bit of fun with this production, which is always infectious.

The Duke of Milan was played by Dan White (FB). White’s role is mostly bombast, but he portrays that well and with joy. He gets one standout song: “Bring The Boys Back Home” (which is clearly a commentary on Nixon and the Vietnam War), which he handles with aplomb.

On the more comic ends of the spectrum are Cody Williams (FB) as Thurio and Mary Zastrow (FB) as Cupid. Williams captures the foolish and foppish nature of Thurio well, and brings that foolishness to the singing, especially in the song “Thurio’s Samba”. I was afraid they might need to censor the song, given the refrain (Boom-Chicka-Chicka, But-Fucka-Wucka-Wucka Cock-waka-waka Puss-wussy-wussy Wow) and the little ones in the audience, but they just slightly muddied the words and it went right over their heads. Zastrow was having the time of her life as Cupid. This isn’t a large singing role except for a few operatic numbers played for the humor, but as Cupid herself she got to mug away and just play.

Rounding out the named characters was Edgar Cardoso/FB‘s Eglamour. Cardoso played Eglamour more as fashion model/Fabio-ish, which is a little bit different than I remember the portrayl. He handled the number “Eglamour” well.

The ensemble consisted of Audrey Byer (FB), Cynthia Cordon/FB, Kasey Furginson/FB, Corazon Montanio (FB), Shannon Nail/FB, John Redwood/FB, Jackie Sanders/FB, Priscilla Nathalie Soltero/FB, Sienna Wescott/FB, and Van McDuff (FB) (who was omitted from the bios).  All were strong, having fun, and a joy to watch.

Music was provided by an off-stage band under the direction of Alex Borquez/FB. The band consisted of Alex Borquez/FB on Guitar, Bass, Drums, Percussion; Edgar Cardoso/FB on Keyboards (which is why there were no keyboards while he was on stage); Zachary Borquez/FB on Brass; Michael Fandetti/FB on Reeds; Desiree’ Deasy (FB) on Violin I and II (hows that again? four hands, two chins, you say); Rebecca Yeh (FB) on Cello, and Mairin Deasy on Viola.

The choreography was by Lindsey Lorenz (FB), assisted by Bella Briscoe (FB). It was all over the place, which means that it covered the stage well :-). Seriously, the dancing worked reasonably well. Nothing too complicated, but good enough that the ensemble numbers were fun to watch.

Turning to the technical side. No credits were provided for the traditional disciplines: set design, prop design, sound design, lighting design, fight choreography, and such. The presumption is that some came from the master-of-all-hats, the director, Timothy Jon Borquez (FB). In any case: the set was simple: some risers, some flats (behind-which the ensemble resided when off-stage), some vine-al and vinyl decoration. Enough to give a vague sense of place. There were various props, such as a bike, a boat, a trunk. I think here is where the limited budget of this production showed; I remember the stage show having much more in this area. Sound design was good, although a bit muffled and over-mic-ed in the beginning. The bird sounds were nice. Lighting was a different problem. The basic lights were good, but there needs to be better coordination between the actors and the lighting placement, especially the follow-spots and the follow-movers. Often actors were quite literally left in the dark. The fight choreography in Act II was reasonable but could have used with a dash more swash in the buckle. Costumes, designed by Yessica Armenta/FB (Costume Coordinator), presumably, were, well, Ren-Faire-ish which is what you expect as the RenFaire was set in roughly that time. There were a few faux paux: Sylvia’s hose line was visible, there were a few crotch buttons undone, and the more busty could use a bit more support so they didn’t bust out. But these were minor and didn’t distract from the story. Grace Gaither/FB was the stage manager, and Bianca Armenta/FB was the house manager.

Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Musical continues at the Foothill Performing Arts Council (FPAC) (FB) through August 6. A limited number of tickets are available through Goldstar; otherwise, tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Performances take place at the ArTES Theatre (FB) at the Cesar E. Chavez Academies (FB), 1001 Arroyo Street, San Fernando, 91340. Although the cast is a young and less seasoned, being primarily local theatre students, they have a large amount of raw talent. This talent, combined with their enthusiasm and good singing voices and the joyous nature of this little produced show, make this a joy to watch.

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

Upcoming Shows:

The last weekend of July proper brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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

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Underlying Meanings | “Peter Pan” @ Cabrillo Music Theatre / 5☆ Theatricals

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 16, 2017 @ 7:51 pm PDT

Peter Pan (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicHatred of Women. As I start writing this, news of the new Dr. Who has been released, and mysogyny is rampant in the comment sections on the Internet. I mean, Hillary Clinton was one thing, but a female Time Lord.

Get over it. Grow up!

The reason I bring the subject up at all, however, is because I saw a show last night that made me think about a deep seated hatred of women — mothers in particular — from another boy that refused to grow up. I am, of course, talking about Peter Pan (and I don’t mean the peanut butter). Peter’s hatred of mothers — his deep seated mistrust of them and desire to inflict regular pain on them by stealing their children — has been brought to mind regarding this story every since I saw the Blank Theatre production of Peter Pan – The Boy That Hated Mothers. That made me look at the boy quite differently. Gone were the days of innocence brought upon by the famous Mary Martin TV production of the musical.

However, until last night, I actually can’t recall having seen the actual stage musical … on stage. I’d seen the origin story of the story, of course, as well as the origin story of the author. I’d see both the 1960 original TV version and the recent politically-corrected and lengthened remake. But the actual stage version…. I hadn’t seen it. When Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) announced their season I was intrigued — and I wondered if in face I would see the original, or whether the updated TV version was now the only version licensed.

The answer: It was the original version being licensed with only one PC change (the word “redskins” was dropped in favor of “warriors”), meaning the problematic portrayals (i.e., stereotypical “Indians” vs. respectful “Native Americans”) were in the hands of the director.

And my verdict? What did I think of it?

The production itself was spectacular. The performances. The singing. The dancing. The theatricality. The fun. The spectacle. The magic. It was all there. There were scenes and songs I didn’t remember; it was different from yet similar to the 1960 broadcast. It erased the problematic memories of the recent Live! version.

But… But…

The story flaws remain. The presentation still hearkens to a level of stereotypical Indians — braves, savages, and war-paint. The presentation still is based around a child that has some deep psychological issues. In addition to, you guessed it, Peter Pan syndrome, there is that resentment towards mothers and adults. But you know, I see those things only when I have my “adult” hat on. Taking it off; being a child again — this remains a magical fun musical. Alas, the world forces us to grow up. But we can be children, and sometimes set aside our problems, when we go to a large building, often in a central part of a city, and sit together in the dark with lots of other people, all of whom have paid a great deal of money to be there, and just… imagine.

Oh, and for those that can’t get over the fact that Peter Pan, a boy, is played by a girl: GET OVER IT. Just think of Peter Pan as the ultimate Time Lord.

At this point, I would normally give you a synopsis of the story. But, c’mon, who doesn’t know the story of Peter Pan? A boy who refuses to grow up, who together with a fairy who loves the boy in a way that fairies  shouldn’t love boys, kidnaps the children of a family. He takes them, after performing some mindwashing, to an island where they get to play with poison and swords and fight pirates, keeping them out of communication with their parents. He fights a local Native American tribe, and after saving their leader, makes friends with the tribe. He then refuses to listen to a voice of sanity, lets a fairy get poisoned to the point of near death (only to be saved by breaking the fourth wall), and lets innocent children be captured and threatened with death. He then fights the pirates, wins, throws the captain overboard, and then burdens a family in their moment of relief at getting their children back with a significant number of additional mouths to feed. Oh, he then comes back years later and takes away the daughter of the woman he once called “mother”.

You thought the story was something different? Perhaps this?

Seriously, though, to give credit where credit is due: Peter Pan is the 1954 musical version based on the play by Sir J. M Barrie, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Moose Charlap, with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and additional music by Jule Styne, and original choreography by Jerome Robbins, with proceeds from the licensing still going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.  With those credits, it isn’t a bad show at all. I just pull your leg — perhaps overly so, which is in the spirit of the show.

Peter Pan Cast (Cabrillo)The Cabrillo production of Peter Pan is simply outstanding. Under the direction of Yvette Lawrence (FB) and with choreography by Cheryl Baxter (FB), magic is created by the cast and crew. These production leads knew how to bring out the best in their cast, how to keep and make the playfulness in the story come out on stage, and how, simply to have fun.

In the lead position as Peter Pan, Carly Bracco (FB) has fun with the role. To my eyes, she was quite a boyish, impish, and strong Peter. I never cared for the lilt of Mary Martin, and have only a vague recollection of Sandy Duncan. Allison Williams was far too reserved in her portrayal. Bracco captures the right amount of boy — perhaps tomboy — in the character. Playful, petulant, flighty. All captured well, combined with a very strong singing voice and great dance moves.

Playing against her as Mr. Darling / Captain Hook was Gregory North (FB). As Mr. Darling, the role calls for a modicum of measured bluff and bravado. But as Hook, ah, as Hook, that is where North shines. This is a role that calls for measured and controlled over-acting, of chewing scenery and the pirate crew around you, of, in essence, playing as strong at the stereotype of a pirate as one can. North nails that person perfectly, and combines it with marvelous singing and performance. He is a delight to watch.

The Darling children are portrayed by Sarah Miller-Crews (FB) as Wendy, Micah Meyers as John, and Luke Pryor as Michael. All are spectacular. I’d like to particularly call out Miller-Crews lovely voice on “Distant Melody,” and Pryor’s remarkable dancing in Ugg-a-Wugg.

I noted earlier that, unlike the 1954 version, the character Liza does not come to Neverland. Perhaps that is because, similar to Mr. Darling, they cast the actor in a different role in Neverland. In this case, Brittany Bentley (FB), who portrays Liza, also portrays Tiger Lily. As with Hook, it is in Neverland that Bentley shines.  This time, it isn’t by overacting — it is by dance. From the moment of her Cirque de Soleil entrance as Tiger Lily thought her amazing dances throughout, she is just a joy to watch.

Turning now to some of the various named ensemble types, starting with the pirates. These are great comic roles, and the team just excels at them — particularly Justin Michael Wilcox (FB)’s Smee. From the Mezzanine, where I was sitting, it was hard to tell them apart, but there was loads of play, athleticism, gymnastics, and just great dance and fun.

Turning to the Lost Boys: As a group they were spectacular. Strong singing, strong dancing, strong gymnastics, and most importantly, strong play.

Lastly, Angela Baumgardner (FB) played Mrs. Darling/Adult Wendy (and presumably the narrator).

What distinguished a Cabrillo production from any other production is the large and outstanding ensembles they assemble, especially in the quality of their dance. This show was no exception. The ensemble consisted of: Claudia Baffo (FB) [Indian]; Mackinnley Balleweg [Lost Boy]; John Paul Batista (FB) [Indian]; Brigid Benson (FB) [Indian]; Aaron Camitses (FB) [Twin #1]; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB) [Starkey]; Luca de la Peña [Lost Boy]; Natalie Esposito (FB) [Indian]; Shannon Gerrity (FB) [Twin #2]; Kevin Gilmond (FB) [Cecco]; Veronica Gutierrez (FB) [Indian, Dance Captain]; Diane Huber (FB) [Mermaid]; Evin Johnson (FB)  [Indian]; Ty Koeller (FB) [Indian]; Joey Langford (FB) [Tootles]; Sharon Logan (FB) [Indian]; Calista Loter (FB) [Indian]; Natalie MacDonald (FB) [Lost Boy]; Missy Marion (FB) [Nana, Crocodile]; Nathaniel Mark (FB) [Lost Boy]; Andrew Metzger (FB) [Noodler, Scottish Pirate]; Alyssa Noto (FB) [Lost Boy]; Charles Platt (FB) [Turkish Pirate]; Tanner Redman (FB) [Bill Jukes]; Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Nibs]; Brandon Root (FB) [Algerian Pirate]; Jessie Sherman (FB) [Curly]; Anthony Sorrells (FB) [Indian]; Landen Starkman (FB) [Pirate]; Gabriel Taibi (FB) [Slightly]; Ashley Kiele Thomas (FB) [Indian]; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) [Los Boy]; Abigail May Thompson [Jane]; Riley Way [Lost Boy];  and Jater Webb (FB).

No credit was provided for Tinkerbell. I preferred the days when they had to be imaginative with her, instead of playing confuse-a-cat with a laser pointer.

Understudies: Brittany Bentley (FB) – Peter Pan; Ethan Daniel Corbett (FB★; FB)  – Mr. Darling/Captain Hook;  Natalie MacDonald (FB) – Wendy Darling; Nathaniel Mark – John Darling; Taylor Lynda Thomas (FB) – Michael Darling; Diane Huber (FB) – Mrs. Darling.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the musical direction of Dan Redfield/FB, who served as conductor. The orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Flute, Piccolo, Bariton Sax]; Ian Dahlberg (FB) [Oboe; English Horn; Flute 2]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Piccolo Trumpet]; Mike Davis [Trumpet II]; Michael Fortunato (FB) [Trumpet III]; Jennifer Bliman (FB) [Horn]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone]; Sharon Cooper [Violin]; Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Chris Kimbler (FB) [Keyboard I]; Tom Griffin (FB) [Keyboard II]; Lloyd Cooper (FB) [Keyboard III]; Elaine Litster [Harp]; Shane Harry/FB [Double String Bass]; and Alan Peck [Set Drums, Percussion]. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the production side of the show: The scenery was designed by John Iacovelli (FB), and was provided by McCoy Rigby Entertainment (FB) (together with the costumes (designed by Shigeru Yaji), and any props that weren’t designed by Alex Choate (FB).  Add to this the hair and wig design of Jim Belcher. The total package worked quite well, especially in the costuming for the lost boys and the pirates, and the hiding of the flying harnesses. As for the costumes of the Indians, well, lets just say they fit the stereotype well, but in this area this show is not known for cultural sensitivity. Lighting and sound design were by CMT regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) [lighting] and Jonathan Burke (FB) [sound]. Flying effects were by Zfx, Inc (FB), who also win the award for best bio. After all, “They don’t wake up and put their pans on one leg at a time like the other guys. They wrap themselves in kilts and stride boldly out into the world.” Other production credits: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Talia Krispel (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

There is one more weekend to see Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) [and one more week to see it as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), see below]. Tickets are available at the Cabrillo Box Office Online; or you can call the Kavli box office. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

To explain the last parenthetical: At the beginning of last night’s show, Managing Director Will North announced that Cabrillo Music Theatre was no more. It wasn’t going away, no shows were changing; the upcoming season was unchanged. However, they were changing their name to 5 Star Theatricals. The reason for this was unclear. Was it to disassociate themselves from the horrid Theatre League productions, or the financial problems of the past? Probably not. The thinking seems to be more that it is to broaden their producing horizons to plays and other events, and to possibly increase their geographic reach (touring 5-Star productions on a regional circuit, perhaps). Whatever the reason, I think the timing is bad, especially after they printed up all the specialty material with the Cabrillo logo. The name has loads of goodwill; just go to Cabrillo Theatricals and be done with it. That’s my 2c. Alas, they don’t have a website up for the new name.

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

Upcoming Shows:

Next weekend brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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

 

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A Notable Beginning | “Ruthie and Me” @ Actors Co-Op Too!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 16, 2017 @ 10:49 am PDT

Ruthie and Me (Actors Co-Op)Everything has a beginning. In the case of musicals, long gestation periods often begat workshops, which begat more workshops as a musical is honed into the eventual stage production that one sees. One of the companies to which we subscribe, Actors Co-op (FB), does this through their summer series Actors Co-Op Too!: a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

Yesterday, we saw the second production of this year’s Too! series: Ruthie and Me. Ruthie and Me was written 20 years ago by book writer and lyricist Karen Wescott (FB), with music by Marylou Dunn (FB), but it had never seen a full production (although it appears there was a staged reading at some point at the Pasadena Playhouse, and possibly a church variant of the show). Director Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB) worked with the authors to develop a streamlined revision, with the result being this first staged workshop production. (Note: This doesn’t appear to be the first time the author and director have worked together; I found this while attempting to find the author’s bio online)

Ruthie and Me tells the story of the biblical character Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth.  Coming from the Jewish tradition, I was aware of the importance of the story: Ruth is the first recorded instance of a convert to Judaism and provides the model for Jewish conversion; she is also traditionally in the lineage of King David. However, I recalled from my Jewish Studies courses at UCLA that Ruth had some additional implications within Christianity (see here and here or here, for example). Essentially, the Jewish interpretation focuses on the conversion and lineage, and the Christian interpretation focuses on redemption and the parallels between Ruth’s son and Jesus. My fear was that, given the mission of the company, the Christalogical aspects would be too heavy-handed (i.e., sufficient to make this non-Christian audience member uncomfortable). I’m pleased to say that nothing along this aspect struck me during the show, although there was a little bit more emphasis on the redemption aspect than the conversion aspect.

As this was, essentially, a workshop production, there is the written understanding that this is a work in progress — not a finished “Broadway ready” piece. I would essentially agree with that: I think the piece is a good beginning, but needs some work along the path. In the spirit of that, I hope that the following comments will help it along the way. In terms of the story itself, limiting to the specific Biblical concept and age is understandable given the nature of the author, but rarely have such stories succeeded. If a way could be found to transport the bones of the story to a different setting (as is often done with Shakespeare), it could provide some additional insights on the acceptance of a convert in a closed and insular society, and the redemptive power of an open heart. Conversion is a powerful metaphor these days: whether it is conversion and suspicion of the foreigner in a larger society (witness what we have seen with refugees and foreign immigrants), or conversion and acceptance in terms of gender. There could be some very interesting parallels to explore there.

In terms of the writing itself: there were some language concerns. Specifically, there was use of both Yiddish and Hebrew and moving back and forth between the two (with the typical differences in pronunciation). But a larger concern was why the Yiddish was used. It wasn’t used as part of the context of the time, or to create the feeling of Yiddishkeit community, but rather for the humor of the words in the Jewish context of the play (perhaps we only know a character is Jewish if they spout Yiddish?).  If that is the intent, there needs to be a deeper way of conveying that message without dropping to the stereotypical. As the musical is shaped further, ask yourself: Why are they speaking Yiddish. As I write that, the phrase and role that comes to mind is dramaturg. Enlisting such a person to help in the shaping might resolve those issues.

Musically, the show comes off as … a church play or cantata. It is predominately sung through, and a chorus is often used to provide exposition along the way as opposed to the dramatic scenes illustrating the story. The music from song to song tends to have a similar tonality and feel; the only song that truly stands out is “Life After a Certain Age”. So unless the intent is to take this along the lines of Andrew Lloyd Webber or a Lin Manuel Miranda, an effort needs to be made to craft this more along traditional musical lines. The music can use a bit more variety in tempo and style as well. There were also points where I got the feeling that the rhyming dictionary was handy during the process. In other words, the rhymes felt like they were there because the lyricist though this rhyme is good — let’s add a few more, as opposed to letting the lyrics serve the story and advancing it forward.

If you are interpreting the comments above as my thinking this was a bad show, think again. I thought it was a good show and a great musical telling of the Story of Ruth. But as it currently stands, it might only have a life on the liturgical stage. If it wants something more than that, then further seasoning and adjustment is required.

The performances (under the direction of Natalie Hope MacMillan (FB★, FB)), for the most part, were reasonably good. In the lead positions were Lori Berg (FB) as Naomi and Christina Gardner (FB) as Ruth. Berg gave a strong performance as Naomi — conveying humor, singing well, capturing the Jewish nature of the character, and in general, being very enjoyable to watch. Gardner needs some more seasoning (as is understandable for a Too! performance): I liked her acting and dancing quite a bit, but she does need to work a bit more on the singing. Specifically, she needs a bit more power behind the voice to be able to compete and compare with other actors on stage, and there were a number of notes where I got the impression she was reaching a bit out of her range or was slightly off. These are all correctable with a little training, and I think the underlying basics and talent are there — so I view this like the larger show: this is a strong start, and I hope to see her again, improved, in a future production.

In what I would characterize as the second tier of importance were Darrell Philip (FB)’s Boaz and Tracey Bunka‘s Sapphira. I really liked Philip’s Boaz: he exuded a strong warm personality, and one could easily see why Ruth was attracted to him even given the difference is ages. He also sang very nicely. Bunka’s strength was in singing in movement — she had a very strong voice that stood out and defined the songs she was in, and was a joy to listen to.

Rounding out the cast in other smaller named roles and ensemble positions were: Tamarah Ashton (FB) [Ensemble]; David Buckland (FB) [Ensemble, Baruch]; Hannah Dimas (FB) [Ensemble, Orpah]; Wayne Keller III (FB) [Ensemble]; Perry Hart [Ensemble, Nathan]; Carly Lopez (FB) [Woman 2]; Lisa Rodriguez (TW) [Woman 1]; Karlee Squires (FB) [Ensemble]; and Priscilla Taylor (FB) [Ensemble]. All were strong and performed and sang well. About the only weakness was one of the male ensemble members — there were two times where he had line trouble. I’m writing that off to this being a workshop and having only three performances (and thus, likely an equivalently light rehearsal period).

Music was provided by side-stage accompanist Jeff Gibson (who it turns out is connected to a family we’re good friends with). We hadn’t seen Jeff in ages, so it was a treat to see him (plus his dinner recommendation worked out great).

Actors Co-Op Too! productions have minimal budgets and sets. There was no credit for scenic design or anything like that. Lighting design was by Dan Corrigan (FB). Choreography was by Jorie Janeway (FB).  Derek Copenhaver (FB) was the stage manager. Ruthie and Me was produced by Carly Lopez (FB).

Alas, Ruthie and Me had only three performances: one on Friday, July 14, and two on Saturday, July 15, so you missed your chance to see it. However, there is one more Actors Co-Op Too! production, The Last 5 Years, in two weeks, and Actors Co-Op (FB) has a great 2017-2018 season. Visit their website for more information.

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

Upcoming Shows:

After this show, we ran to Thousand Oaks for Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August starts with Brian Setzer at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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

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A Questionable Financial Situation | “Voysey Inheritance” @ Actors Co-Op

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 02, 2017 @ 12:53 pm PDT

Th Voysey Inheritance (Actors Co-Op)What would you do if you discovered that your local bank was cheating people? Oh, it was paying interest and making loans and such, but if all the depositors came and wanted their money, they would discover it was all a house of cards, and no one could be made whole. If it was 2008, you’ld likely be OK — after all, that’s why we have deposit insurance. Close the bank, pay the depositors, and sell any remaining assets to another bank.

But suppose this was in the time before deposit insurance? The turn of the 20th Century, in fact — 1904. Suppose it was the family bank — the one keeping your lifestyle afloat? Would you just take the hit and liquidate then — paying people pennies on the dollar, and making some destitute? Or would you keep the sham going on the hope that you could recover and pay everyone back?

That’s the question at the heart of The Voysey Inheritance, a play by Harley Granville-Barker adapted by David Mamet, which is finishing up its run at Actors Co-op (FB) today, part of the Actors Co-Op’s Actors Co-Op Too! summer series — a series of short runs to explore new plays, grow new directors and new actors, and season the acting muscles of existing company members.

The Voysey Inheritence explores a financial dilemma encountered by the Voysey Family in Edwardian England.  Mr. Voysey is the head of a financial institution in London, inherited from his father. His son and partner, Edward, discovers that his father has been pilfering money from client accounts, paying them any interest and payments, but otherwise speculating with their capital, skimming any profits. He has been continuing the scheme with the hopes of making thing right, but this offends the son’s sensibilities. Further, the father has been using the funds to support other family member’s financial needs: son Hugh’s art, son Booth’s position, daughter Ethel’s dowrey, and so forth. When the father dies and the son inherits the institution, what is to be done? Especially, what is to be done after he discovers that most of the family knew of the sham, and kept it going to preserve his position? Does he liquidate, does he try and make the smaller accounts whole, does he try to make everyone whole? And what will he do when it all comes crashing down — as it eventually must.

As this show started, I didn’t know what to make of this? An odd Edwardian parlor drama? But as the story unfolded, I got caught up in it. It is surprisingly timely, especially given the aforereferenced situation we faced in 2008, as well as many of the financial charades undertaken or encouraged by many of today’s leaders.

Of course, it helped that there were top flight performances under the direction of veteran stage director David Atkinson (FB). That’s pretty amazing if you harken back to what the Actors Co-Op Too! series is and what that likely means: minimal rehearsal, newer actors, no budget — acting for the love of the craft. Atkinson and his team worked together to craft an excellent performance. Yes, there was the occasional minor line pause that became noise, but on whole it was excellent in character personification and intensity

In what I would characterize as the lead position was Thomas Chavira (FB) as Edward Voysey, who had perhaps the shortest bio in the program. Based on that and his resume, a new-ish actor who gave a very strong performance in this role. He brought the right level of hesitancy, honesty and passion to this role. Also strong was McKensie Garber (FB) as Alice Maitland, his cousin / fiancee (yes, I found that a bit odd as well). McKensie is another new actor, recently moved to LA after a stint as Miss Missouri. My eye was first drawn to her face, but her performance won me over quickly with a great sense of fun underneath the surface — a sense that made the ending of the play additionally sweet. It turns out we also had fun talking with her mom before the show, but I didn’t make the connection between the actor on stage and actual person until I looked at the program at intermission.

The patriarch of the family, Mr. Voisey, was played by Townsend Coleman (FB). He only appears is the first half of the production, but gave a strong performance in his interactions with Chavira’s Edward.

The other members of the Voysey family were played by Nancy Atkinson as Mrs. Voysey, E. K. Dagenfield (FB) as Peacey / Trenchard Voysey, Christian Edsall (FB) as Major Booth Voysey, Matthew Grondin as Hugh Voysey, Jorie Janeway (FB) as Honor Voysey, and Michelle Parrish (FB) as Ethel Voysey. Ms. Atkinson played the matriarch well; a small role where the primary characteristic was being hard of hearing. I SAID, BEING HARD OF HEARING. Dagenfield, who is a regular dialect coach at Co-Op, handled the one small scene as Trenchard in the 2nd scene well, but shone as Peacey in the 3rd scene in his interaction with Edward over a request for money. Edsall was strong as Maj. Booth in the bulk of the play after a weak introduction in the first scene (how the character is written, not the actor). Grondin’s Hugh was also stronger in the second act, especially in his interactions with Edward and the rest of the family. His character, Hugh, gets some of the most insightful lines about the corrupting power of money. Also, for whatever reason, Grondin’s photo was seemingly left out of the actor montage photo that Co-Op tweeted and I incorporated into the image for this post. Parrish’s Ethel is written very shallowly, but what characterization is there is captured well by Parrish. That leaves Janeway’s Honor (a name you never see these days). She has a very interesting characterization — initially capturing a stiffish-enigma, but bringing out some interesting depth as the play progresses — the one character to whom, perhaps, money never meant anything in particular with family being more important. A small role, but one that is very telling about the position of women in Edwardian society.

Rounding out ensemble was Bruce Ladd (FB) as George Booth and Tim Hodgin (FB) as Reverend Evan Colpus. Ladd gave a particularly strong performance during the second act, bringing out a lot of fire and emotion.

Being an Actors Co-Op Too! production, the production team was small: Director David Atkinson (FB) doing double and triple duty as the sound and lighting designer, actor Thomas Chavira (FB) doing double-duty as the producer, and Thien/Tintin Nguyen/FB as the stage manager. Kudos to whomever did the props on the budget for the excellent choice and taste in fountain pens: I could see a Montblanc, a Cross, and a Retro. I just happen to be a fountain pen aficionado, and it’s a nice choice (and one that no one else in the audience would likely notice, even if I do prefer Shaeffers).

The last performance of The Voisey Inheritence is today at 2:30pm. The performance is free, although a $10 or more donation is requested from non-subscribers. Information on the location may be found at the Actors Co-op (FB) website.

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

Upcoming Shows:

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). Next weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) if the tickets go up on Goldstar; otherwise, we may do Measure for Measure as part of free Shakespeare from the Independent Shakespeare Company (FB) in Griffith Park.. The third weekend brings  Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB) followed by Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We are also squeezing in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast (you can contribute to the production here). The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB).

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

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

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